research / Briefing and working papers

Australia-Taiwan people-to-people links and cultural exchange

October 07 2022

Note: This chapter appeared in the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation report, Taiwan and Australia: Advancing the partnership of four decades, in October 2022.

1. Introduction

Taiwan's incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen has aggressively promoted the New Southbound Policy (NSP) since her inauguration in 2016. The aim of this policy is to develop and deepen relationships, as well as people-to-people links, with Taiwan's partners in Southeast Asia, South Asia, New Zealand and Australia. As a ‘people-oriented’ policy, the NSP goes beyond the confines of economic cooperation and emphasises mobilising the vitality of the public sphere to strengthen social and cultural links.

Australia's population is a relatively modest 25 million people. Nonetheless, it ranks as the second largest economy among NSP countries (the first being India). Australia is also the Asia-Pacific region's second largest donor nation behind Japan, one of the United States' closest allies, and a significant middle power. Whether in terms of NSP objectives or more conventional economic or geostrategic considerations, Taiwan has sufficient incentives to proactively pursue a more intimate partnership with Australia. Nonetheless, because Australia's economy is heavily reliant on China, and Australia's strategic calculus prioritises its relationships with the Pacific and Southeast Asian nations in its immediate neighbourhood, it remains the case that there is ample room to develop people-to-people and cultural links between Australia and Taiwan.

For many years, Australia's engagement with islands in the South Pacific/Oceania and parts of Southeast Asia has been guided by its multidimensional regional security concept. In contrast, its civil and cultural links with Taiwan have been largely propelled by an economic agenda associated with Australia's more dated Asian Century vision. This has meant that Australia's civil and cultural interactions with Taiwan have largely been market driven and not grounded in a comprehensive geostrategic outlook.

In spite of this, people-to-people links and cultural interactions between Australia and Taiwan (prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic) have flourished in some areas. There have been substantial increases, for instance, in the number of Taiwanese heading to Australia as tourists, migrants, working holiday visa holders, and international students enrolled in Australian institutions of higher learning. The last few years have also seen a flurry of First Peoples' art and cultural exchange events and programs hosted by each nations' government bodies and civic organisations.

Moreover, Australia and China's diplomatic and trade relations have deteriorated amid great power competition and the heightening of tensions in the region. The Australia-China relationship has been beset by a growing number of issues, including disputes in the South China Sea, alleged infiltration by Australian-based United Front organisations, and what appears to be China's retaliatory trade measures in response to Australia's calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 virus. Australia's government and commercial sectors have raised concerns that the nation's economy and supply chains are overly reliant on China – which could open up greater trade and investment opportunities for other East Asian nations.

At the same time, under the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) framework, Australia appears to be planning to upgrade its partnership with Indo-Pacific nations that share its core values. It has also manifested a strengthened resolve to resist Chinese diplomatic pressure – such as that which China might apply to impede the development of Australian-Taiwan relations. These together provide an excellent opportunity for Australia and Taiwan to strengthen and expand their civil and cultural relations. Taiwan's NSP, and Australia's growing emphasis on FOIP, could form the basis of a macro-geostrategic framework for guiding and invigorating the relationship.

This chapter presents a brief overview of the history of people-to-people and cultural links between Australia and Taiwan over the last ten years. It explores areas of improvement in light of the aforementioned factors, and makes corresponding policy recommendations. The chapter limits its focus to three areas: 1. Taiwanese diaspora in Australia and diaspora diplomacy; 2. interactions and exchange programs between academic and technological elites; and 3. art exchange, especially First Nations peoples' art exchange programs.

2. Overview/Policy outcomes

2.1 An overlooked diplomatic resource: Australia's Taiwanese diaspora community

The number of people of Taiwanese ancestry in Australia has risen continuously since the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973. In the 1980s, Taiwan was one of the target nations of Australia's Business Migration Program, and from 1986 to 1991, the Australian population of Taiwan-born migrants increased 6-fold to 12,568. Australia's 2021 Census recorded 49,511 Taiwan-born people in Australia, an increase of roughly 70 percent from the 2011 Census.[1] In 2004, Australia and Taiwan signed a working holiday visa agreement – the only program of its kind which was quota-free for Taiwanese applicants. Australia has since been the leading destination for Taiwanese working holiday visa applicants (the 2014-2015 figure reached a high of 26,648; the 2019 figure was 17,641). Recently, Australia also surpassed the United Kingdom as the second most popular destination for Taiwanese international students. From 2017 to 2019, more than 180,000 Taiwanese students came to Australia each year.

There are four pertinent demographic traits of Australian residents of Taiwanese ancestry: 1. the population is relatively young. According to Australia's 2016 census, around one half of all Australian migrants born in Taiwan migrated to Australia after 2006, and their median age was 31 (compared to a median age of 44 for the entire migrant community); 2. more tend to reside in large cities – especially Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne; 3. their education level is comparatively high, and a relatively high proportion of those employed are highly skilled professionals. The percentage with a bachelor's degree or higher tertiary degree is roughly 45percent, more than twice the national figure. Many migrants of Taiwanese ancestry work in the white-collar sectors of finance, insurance and commerce, and derive income from overseas businesses, interest, and real estate investment.

Community groups for Australians of Taiwanese ancestry have helped to promote Taiwan's image and foster civil and cultural links between the two nations. For instance, in 2019 the Australian Taiwanese Friendship Association (ATFA) organised a day trip to advance Taiwan's accession to the World Health Assembly (WHA). The Friends of Taiwan in Australia (FOTIA), which was formed in 2006, has organised a number of performances, exhibitions, and talks aimed at introducing Taiwan to Australians. In 2019, Taiwan's Ministr y of Foreign Affairs awarded FOTIA's Secretary General Laurence Quinlivan a Friend of Foreign Service Medal Award in recognition of his ‘contributions over many years towards promoting cultural and educational exchange between Australia and Taiwan and mutual friendship between the two nations’.[2]

2.2 Academic exchange and cooperation

In 2009, academic links between Australia and Taiwan entered a new phase. On March 19, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA), via the Australian Office Taipei, presented a proposal to Taiwan's Ministry of Science and Technology's (MOST) Department of Humanities and Social Sciences to develop bilateral academic exchange and cooperation on 27 research themes. As early as May 25 that same year, Taiwanese scholars from various disciplines participated in a panel which visited public universities in Australia and discussed themes including NGOs in East Asia, Taiwan-Australian First Nations peoples' health and welfare, and new media. Later that year, Taiwan received an invitation to enter the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils (AASSREC), and ASSA and MOST's Department of Humanities and Social Sciences signed a cooperation agreement whereby ASSA would provide seed funding to young Australian and Taiwanese scholars to expand bilateral cooperation.

Subsequently, the scale and frequency of Australia-Taiwan cooperation in academia and scientific research increased. Between 2011 to 2015, 903 publications were co-authored by Australia and Taiwanese contributors, placing Australia in ninth place among Taiwan's research partners. Institutions in both nations have continued to undertake exchanges and sign agreements, including via the annual Cross-Strait and Australia Higher Education Forum, which began in 2016. In 2019, Taiwan's National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs) and the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to advance NARLab and related Australian institutes' research capacities and elevate Taiwan's international footprint in the technology sector. The same year, Australian-Taiwanese cooperative projects won Australian National Competitive Grants (Taiwan ranked as the 23rd most successful partner). In 2020, Taiwan's Chang Gung University Research Centre for Emerging Viral Infections and Australia's Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute together developed a new antiviral drug.

While a large number of Taiwanese study in Australia, the number of Australian students in Taiwan is relatively low. This is in part because Australia's higher education system is of excellent quality, and its government-subsidised fee system reduces the financial burden on students. Nonetheless, Taiwan and Australia host a number of programs to encourage talented Australian students to study or undertake research in Taiwan. Taiwan's Ministry of Education's Huayu Enrichment Scholarship program accepts applications from Australian students every year, and in 2020, awarded scholarships to 33 Australians. Under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Taiwan Fellowship program, 19 Australian scholars won grants between 2015 and 2020. The Australian government's New Colombo Plan has also supported Australian students to live, work, and study in the Indo-Pacific, including in Taiwan. In 2019, New Colombo Plan's Mobility Grant scheme funded 180 students from 12 Australian universities to engage in short-term study and research in Taiwan.

2.3 Taiwan-Australian Indigenous Peoples art exchange programs

On May 4, 2009, Taiwan's Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Australian Office Taipei jointly hosted a Symposium on Art Exchange between Taiwanese and Australian Indigenous Peoples ( 台 灣 與 澳 洲 原 住 民 族 藝 術 交 流 座 談 會 ). The symposium discussed Australia's experience in promoting Indigenous art and set up communication channels between Taiwanese and Australian Indigenous artists. Since this symposium, art and cultural links between Australian and Taiwanese Indigenous peoples have gradually deepened and expanded, and have come to include exchange programs run by state and city level governments, as well as community organisations. The frequency, exposure, and influence of events of this kind pay testimony to the success of Taiwan and Australia in promoting First Peoples art exchange, one of the most vibrant and promising domains of cultural exchange between the two nations.

In February 2020, Taiwan established its first cultural centre in Oceania to expand cultural links in Oceania and the South Pacific, and advance a ‘cultural NSP’ policy. At the same time, Taiwan has sought to strengthen cooperation with Indigenous artists in Australia and construct a broader Indigenous art ecology. The most significant art exchange programs of this nature include the YIRRAMBOI-PULIMA Festival and the Taiwan-Australia: Indigenous Artist in Residence Program.

2.3.1. YIRRAMBOI-PULIMA Festival

Launched in 2017, the YIRRAMBOI festival is an Indigenous arts festival jointly hosted by the City of Melbourne and Creative Victoria. Its main objectives are raising Indigenous People's self-identification, promoting Indigenous Peoples' art, nurturing indigenous artists, and facilitating Austronesian intra-cultural exchange. In November 2018, the YIRRAMBOI festival and Taiwan's Pulima arts festival cooperated for the first time to jointly plan the YIRRAMBOI festival week, which led Australian and Taiwan artists to come together in Taipei for the Pulima festival. In 2019, YIRRAMBOI inaugurated a Taiwan Focus week, and invited Taiwanese First Nations artists including Labay Eyong to present exhibitions. It also hosted a Taiwan Night with featured a series of performances from Taiwanese First Nations artists, displaying the diversity of Taiwan's Indigenous art and cultural links abroad.

2.3.2 Taiwan-Australia: Indigenous Artist in Residence Program

On November 9, 2017, Taiwan's Indigenous People's Cultural Development Centre and Australia's Artback NT signed an MoU for the Taiwan-Australia: Indigenous Artist in Residence Program. Under this program, Australia and Taiwan invite one Indigenous artist each year from the other nation to undertake a residency for 6 weeks and attend local art activities. From January 2018 to December 2019, each side hosted two artists through this program.

3. Future prospects

In order to strengthen and expand people-to-people links between Australia and Taiwan, in a way that enhances the effectiveness of Taiwan's diplomacy generally, this report suggests that Taiwan should: 1. respond to changes in Australia's social and political environments; 2. harness Taiwan's competitive advantages and diplomatic resources; and 3. strive to reflect the two nations' shared interests, values, and common identity as nations in the Pacific. In view of the deterioration of the China-Australia relationship, Taiwan could proactively strive to expand people-to-people links with Australia as part of a bottom-up strategy to expand Taiwan's diplomatic space. At the same time, in light of Australia's strong responses to China's United Front activities, Taiwan should also ensure its strategies are clearly differentiable from China's alleged approaches. On these grounds, this article advocates the following guiding concepts: a) bring together digital diplomacy and diaspora diplomacy; and b) promote ethical P2P diplomacy in order to highlight the two nations' shared values and ideals.

3.1 Combining digital diplomacy and diaspora diplomacy

Digital diplomacy refers to the use of digital information and communication technologies (ICT) such as social media platforms to achieve diplomatic objectives. It can be divided into two types: a) a government or its representatives directly using ICT to promote their nation's position or elevate their national image; and b) governments cooperating with non-government entities or citizen diplomats. A characteristic of the latter is cooperation between governments and citizen diplomats. This cooperation can be loose and informal, grounded in the citizen diplomats' self-identification or solidarity between the citizen diplomat and the government. Citizen-driven digital diplomacy has the advantage of being low cost. It also leverages the existing networks and resources of public figures or civic communities with a strong online presence in order to help the government reach a larger audience within the target country. Combining digital diplomacy with diaspora diplomacy makes the most of the significant Taiwanese population in Australia. The demographic character of this community arguably makes it ideal for this role: Australians of Taiwanese descent have well-established local networks, understanding of local customs, and excellent English language skills, and are relatively young and highly educated.

3.2 Ethical P2P Diplomacy (EP2PD)

Public diplomacy scholar Zhang Juyan and Brekken Swartz divide public diplomacy into three traditional types: 1. diplomacy aimed at improving a nation's image; 2. that aimed at furthering mutual understanding; and 3. that aimed at promoting and facilitating a nation's foreign policy objectives. Zhang later added another type: 4. that which promotes Global Public Goods (GPG).[3] Marc Owen Jones proposed that ‘ethical P2P diplomacy is a process of diplomacy whereby citizen diplomats advocate the preservation, distribution and creation of those GPGs that relate to social justice.’[4] Jones also asserts that new technologies for P2P exchange (i.e., social media), and the virtual communities they create, are excellent tools or sites for undertaking EP2PD.[5]

One way in which EP2PD differs from conventional diplomacy is that in the former, ‘civilians... are not only consumers of government information, but also information producers.’[6] As such, the information conveyed through EP2PD is not controlled by governments: it can serve as a tool for diplomacy, or it can also take the form of ‘antidiplomacy’, in the sense of opposing a nation's foreign policy and damaging its national image.[7] While EP2PD has its hazards, the pros arguably outweigh the cons in the case of Australia-Taiwan relations, particularly in the context of diplomatic competition between Taiwan and China. Firstly, Taiwan's performance in relation to human rights, democracy, and the creation of GPGs in these areas is far superior to many countries including China. This performance reflects values it shares with Australia. Secondly, by emphasising GPGs, as opposed to national interests or economic benefits, Taiwan can draw a clear line between its P2P diplomatic activities in Australia and the much-criticised work of China's United Front. Lastly, Taiwan can use EP2PD to highlight its emphasis on and contributions to GPGs and call attention to those areas in which the NSP is compatible with Australia's FOIP vision – which could help build a foundation for enhancing bilateral collaboration.

4. Policy recommendations

This report makes policy recommendations on the following principles: 1. make full use of Taiwan's competitive advantages relative to China to increase Taiwan's avenues for forging P2P/cultural links with Australia and enhance their impact; and 2. bring attention to the ways in which Taiwan's approach to P2P/cultural exchange is compatible with Australia's values and strategic calculus. On this basis, I propose the following: A. enhance the use of new forms of public diplomacy such as digital diplomacy and diaspora diplomacy, and bring them together to empower citizen diplomats to practice EP2PD; and B. organise more forums and symposiums involving youths and elites from both countries, with a focus on aid and assistance to developing nations in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Finally, C. use art exchange events to promote Taiwan's normative influence in the international community. This includes promoting the art of Indigenous peoples, female artists, and people from disadvantaged communities, reflecting Taiwanese society's values of tolerance, human rights, and social justice. Such values would resonate in Australia and help the two sides develop a shared identity as democratic nations of the Pacific.

4.1 Digital Diplomacy, Diaspora Diplomacy and EP2PD

Given the large numbers of relatively young and educated Taiwanese in Australia, this report proposes that Taiwan uses social/digital media as a tool to strengthen links with ATFA, and the tens of thousands of Taiwanese diaspora in Australia, including second-generation migrants, international students, and Taiwanese holding working holiday visas. Taiwan can empower these individuals to build P2P links to raise Taiwan's profile and improve its national image.

United Front organisations' alleged ‘infiltration activities’ have elicited a strong response from the Australian government and media. As such, Taiwan should adopt fundamentally different diaspora diplomacy strategies. This report suggests EP2PD, an approach which avoids direct invocation of national interests, but rather highlights the Taiwanese people's aspirations for democracy and social justice, and reflects Australia and Taiwan's shared commitments to freedom and progressive values. This approach could also be coordinated with ATFA, the Australian Taiwan Women's Association (ATWA) and Taiwanese religious organisations with a presence in Australia.

4.2 Forums for young elites on future cooperation between the NSP and Australia's FOIP strategy

In June 2018, the Economic Division of Taiwan's Economic and Cultural Office in Australia compiled the ‘Report on Uncovering New Opportunities for Economic and Trade Cooperation based on the Content of Australia's Indo-Pacific Strategy’. The report advised ‘Taiwan and Australia can proactively utilise dialogue platforms such as… joint business council meetings to investigate ways to conjoin the NSP with [Australia's] FOIP strategy, and explore new opportunities for cooperation in other markets, such as those of ASEAN nations, so as to develop a cooperative partnership with a more regionally focused economic and trade strategy vision.’[8] Australian dialogue with South Korea presents an instructive case study. On 29 November, 2019, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Sydney and the Korean Australian Community Support Incorporation (KACS) co-hosted the Australia-Korea Youth Friendship Forum ( 한 호 차 세 대 미 래 협 력 포 럼 ), whose aim was to explore the potential for future collaboration between Korea's Southern Policy and Australia's FOIP strategy,[9] as well as the facilitative conditions and means for advancing such cooperation. In a discussion on Australia's FOIP strategic vision, the forum's keynote speaker, Richard McGregor, a Senior Fellow at the Lowy Institute, surmised that the potential for cooperation in the ASEAN region was high because Australia and South Korea did not have conflicting economic and security objectives. He also noted that Australia could leverage Korea's New Southern Policy to strengthen its Indo-Pacific strategy.[10]10 While it remains to be seen if such an agreement will come to fruition, these ideas and the preliminary success of this forum, could serve as a reference for Taiwan. This report recommends that Taiwan organise a similar forum for young Australian and Taiwanese to explore collaboration opportunities between Taiwan's NSP and Australia's FOIP strategy. These forums should expand their purview from economy and trade to aid and social justice. There are positive and negative reasons for pursuing such a strategy. The positive reason is advancing policy harmonisation, such that each side plays a complementary role in their regional engagements so as to reduce redundancies, facilitate policy objectives, and augment their overall impact. The negative reason relates to sensitivities around Australia's multidimensional regional security concept. Given that Australia may view other states' economic and aid programs in the region through the prism of regional security concerns, a lack of communication could cause unnecessary friction between Australia and Taiwan. Youth forums could assist front-line workers from both nations to establish mutual trust and understanding and promote the free exchange of knowledge and experiences. It could also serve as a foundation for higher level cooperation (i.e., a ‘bottom-up’ approach).

4.3 Cultural exchange: Exchange programs reflecting Taiwan and Australia's shared identities as nations of the Pacific and tolerant, multicultural societies

Art and cultural exchange are not merely dimensions of people-to-people exchange – they can also serve as a conduit for conveying a nation's image, spirit, and values. This paper proposes that the Taiwanese government may wish to avoid deepening divides in Taiwan's national identity by not preferencing art which takes Chinese culture as a theme. Instead, it should prioritise art programs that reflect Taiwan's diversity, tolerance, and identity as a nation in the Pacific. Building on past successes, Taiwan could expand not only its Indigenous art exchange programs, but also promote or support exchange programs for artists from minority or disadvantaged communities including female artists, migrants, and those with special needs. Doing so would bolster Taiwan's shared status as a progressive nation in the Pacific committed to social justice. Art exchange programs such as those involving First Peoples artists could also serve as a pathway for expanding cultural exchanges within and beyond the Indo-Pacific region.

Dr Corey Lee Bell is a Project and Research Officer at the Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology Sydney (UTS:ACRI).



[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 'Cultural diversity: Census 2021', June 28 2022, < people/people-and-communities/cultural-diversity-census/2021>

[2] 「澳洲台灣之友協會秘書長獲頒『外交之友獎章』」(The secretary general of FOTIA was awarded a Friend of Foreign Ser vice Medal Award), official website of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Brisbane: <>.

[3] Juyan Zhang, Brekken Chinn Swartz, ‘Public diplomacy to promote global public goods (GPG): Conceptual expansion, ethical grounds and rhetoric,’ Public Relations Review, 35 (2009), 382-387.

[4] Marc Owen Jones. ‘Social media and unethical P2P diplomacy in the Bahrain Uprising ,' In ed. Barrie Gunter, Mokhtar Elareshi, Khalid Al-Jaber, Social Media in the Arab World: Communication and Public Opinion in the Gulf States, London: I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 2016, 72.

[5] Ibid, 68-87.

[6] Shay Attias, ‘Israel's new peer-to-peer diplomacy,’ The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 7 (2012), 473.

[7] Christopher Smith, Andrew Cooper and Douglas Kellner, ‘The Effectiveness and Value of Celebrity Diplomacy: An Edited Transcript of a Panel Discussion at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism,’ The Norman Lear Center, 2009.

[8] Pg. 8.

[9] The latter advocates establishing an ‘open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific region’ so as to realise observance of the rule of law, respect for national sovereignty, the preservation of peace, and open markets for the free movement of goods and capital. See the following article composed by the economics team of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia: 從澳洲印太 (Indo-Pacific) 戰略內涵,發掘臺澳經貿合作新機遇報告 (Report: Exploring Opportunities for Economic and Trade Cooperation between Australia and Taiwan Based on [an Analysis of ] the Contents of Australia's Indo-Pacific Strategy) (18 June 2018): < aspx?nodeid=1834&pid=642021>.

[10] ‘ 한국 신남방정책과 호주 인도 - 태평양전략 상호 협력 가능 ‘ (The Potential for Cooperation between South Korea's NSP and Australia's Indo-Pacific Strategy), 2019.12.10: < /oceania_dong /143226>.


Corey Lee Bell

Project and Research Officer

Corey Lee Bell image