From archaeologist Peter Bellwood’s research to linguist Robert Blust’s findings, a wide array of evidence supports the belief that Taiwan is where the Austronesian Peoples originated. Furthermore, past international conferences on Austronesia and related events held by the Council of Indigenous People (CIP), Republic of China (Taiwan) have made it apparent that Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and other Austronesian peoples share close linguistic and cultural ties. This provides an important foundation for Taiwan’s efforts to promote international exchanges between Austronesian cultures. Known as the place of origin for the all Austronesian Peoples in the world, Taiwan must shoulder the great responsibility of regional development.
Moreover, the core value behind the establishment of the Austronesian Forum lies in the concept of a common Austronesian culture whose similar linguistic features, living environments, social structures, ways of life, and modes of thinking have evolved through an organic historical process to become the shared heritage of Austronesian peoples located in different regions.
The Birth of the Austronesian Forum
The Council of Indigenous Peoples of the Republic of China (Taiwan) hosted the Assembly of Austronesian Leaders from 2002 to 2007, establishing contacts throughout the South Pacific islands and ultimately conceiving the idea of a permanent organization, namely the Austronesian Forum, as a cooperative platform for the preservation of cultural heritage and sustainable development in the Austronesian region.
During that time, the Republic of China (Taiwan) promulgated the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law in 2005. Article 33 of the law stipulates that “the government shall actively promote exchanges and cooperation between indigenous peoples and international indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in economic, social, political, cultural, religious, academic and ecological issues.” It can be said that the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law both formalized and was implemented through the CIP’s efforts in establishing the Austronesian Forum.
In 2007, Mr. Icyang Parod, then Minister of the CIP, was determined to establish a permanent international organization for indigenous peoples in the region. His vision was finally realized on April 8, 2008, when the Republic of China (Taiwan), the republic of the Philippines, New Zealand, and six other Pacific island countries—the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Nauru, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu—co-founded the first iteration of the Austronesian Forum in Palau. Unfortunately, this initial attempt to establish the organization failed to operate smoothly.
A Turning Point
After President Tsai Ing-wen was elected into office in 2016, she reappointed Mr. Icyang to the position of Minister of the CIP. Spurred by the implementation of the New Southbound Policy, the Council revisited the possibility of a permanent international organization for Austronesian affairs with the Reactivation of the Austronesian Forum project. In August of the same year, three representatives from the Legislative Yuan (Kolas Yotaka, Huang Chao-shun, and Wang Hue-mei) of the Republic of China (Taiwan) attended the General Assembly of the Asian-Pacific Parliamentarians’ Union (APPU), at which they proposed the reactivation of the Austronesian Forum. The motion garnered unanimous support from every member state. Hence, in May 2018, the Council called a preparatory meeting for the reactivation of the Forum with 12 representatives from Austronesian members who were stationed in Taiwan. A decision was made at the meeting that the Austronesian Forum would resume operations on August 1, 2018 (observed in Taiwan as Indigenous Peoples’ Day), after a ten-year hiatus.
A New Beginning for the Austronesian Forum
On August 1, 2018, 13 members in the Austronesian region (the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, the Republic of Nauru, Tuvalu, the Republic of Palau, New Zealand, the Republic of the Philippines, Malaysia, the Republic of Indonesia, Guam, and Hawaii) successfully reactivated the Austronesian Forum in Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen of the Republic of China (Taiwan), former President Hilda Cathy Heine of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, former Governor Eddie Baza Calvo of the territory of Guam, and the Queen of Palau were among the many distinguished guests in attendance. The Forum was a grand success.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) government approved the Six-year Plan for the Austronesian Forum (2020–25) on March 19, 2019 to support the establishment of the Austronesian Forum as a permanent organization. The plan, assigned a budget of NT$ 739 million, lays a firm foundation for the Forum’s operations. Its objective is to develop strategies for five important areas of concern, including languages and cultures (core strategies), regional industrial development, academic and policy research, human resources development, and basic administrative affairs.
Members met in the Republic of Palau on September 30, 2019 to celebrate the reopening of the Forum’s headquarters, whose operations had been suspended for eleven years. The 2019 Executive Council Meeting was convened on the same day, and members resolved to work together to ensure the success of the Forum.