July 16, 2012, by China Policy Institute
Taiwanese dITplomacy (sic) in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is thirsty for technical innovations, being the fastest-growing Central Asian state with a GDP increase of 7.5% in 2011. Neither of its main trading partners – Russia and China – have the capability to dominate the IT market (although the Chinese brand Lenovo is making a good run for it). Therefore Taiwanese IT companies have plenty of room to enter Kazakhstan. The Computex Taipei 2012 International Fair received good publicity in the brand press and the opportunity for Taiwanese IT producers to interact with worldwide IT producers without leaving Asia has made the sector an important factor for Taiwanese image-building in Central Asia.
Taiwanese dITpomacy in Kazakhstan is a relatively new phenomenon, initiated by the opening of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) Office in Almaty in 2004. Despite TAITRA Almaty being modest in its size and team, the Office is located strategically in the finest place – the biggest Kazakh city and its former capital, only a 3-hour-drive from the Kyrgyz capital. This is also the only office in Central Asia co-sponsored by the Taiwanese government – the closest Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (a quasi-embassy of Taiwan) has its premises in Moscow.
TAITRA Almaty has focused on two missions over the past few years. The first was facilitating trade contacts between Taiwanese and Kazakh traders with the IT industry being at the core of these negotiations. TAITRA supported Kazakh IT distributors with logistical aid in the organization of their visits to main Taiwanese IT trade shows. It also provided Kazakhs with leading innovative technology companies with office facilities available for periods of up to two years at the Taiwan Trade Centre in order to be able to further business contacts with Taiwanese producers.
The second mission of TAITRA Almaty has been to fill the commercial gaps in the Kazakh domestic market with Taiwanese products and to establish the trade brands of Taiwanese goods. TAITRA attempts to show that Taiwan is not only the home of Acer, Asus and Gigabyte, but also a manufacturer of components and final products for other globally-recognized brands from Europe and the US. As the Head of TAITRA Almaty says, ‘Why do they [Kazakhs distributors – aut.] have to travel all that way to Germany or the US, if they can have it from us?!’
This ‘IT diplomacy’ has already paid off. The IT brand press forms a public medium in which the notion of Taiwan as an entity separate from the mainland of China is most prominent. Neither the Kazakh academic community nor public opinion distinguishes between Taiwanese and Chinese nationals, a difference commonly (although not diplomatically) recognised in most Western states. Taiwan has been presented as rich and successful economy that is worth looking at in contrast to China, which is still seen as a producer of cheap and bad quality goods. Despite the fact that TAITRA Almaty distances itself from any form of political agenda, it has contributed immensely to Taiwanese image-building in Kazakhstan. Given the Kazakh appetite for technical novelties, their soft spot for luxury products and the value attached to branded goods, the IT future of the little island of Taiwan seems to have set sail on a rising tide.
Elzbieta Maria Pron is PhD candidate at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.
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