By Joseph Yeh, CNA staff reporter
When YouTuber Ben Wu (吳宇堯) was visiting Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Aug. 21, he inadvertently witnessed the removal of the national flag of El Salvador from the array of flags displayed at front entrance.
Earlier that day, Taiwan had announced it was severing ties with the Central American country with which it had an 85-year diplomatic relationship, after El Salvador decided to ditch Taipei in favor of Beijing.
“I guess that means I no longer have the chance to visit the country,” Wu said in a clip he posted to his Facebook page.
Wu was meeting with foreign ministry officials to discuss a project he is set to launch: visiting all Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, which stand at 17 after El Salvador’s decision.
For Wu the journey, something few people other than maybe Taiwanese presidents or diplomats have ever done, is nothing to do with politics, or an effort to support the government’s move to solidify bilateral ties. Instead it grew from a very simple thought.
“I wondered what these countries, which most Taiwanese have not visited, actually look like?”
“There is nothing political about this project, as I have always wanted to travel to those less-visited places and introduce them to my subscribers from a personal view as a traveler,” Wu told local media during a Friday phone interview.
He believes that many foreigners have the same feeling about Taiwan when they first hear about the island, which in the minds of many is easily confused with Thailand.
Following that simple idea, 24-year-old Wu is now scheduled to travel to the country’s six diplomatic allies in the Pacific — Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu from Sept. 3 to Oct. 17.
Following the 45-day-Pacific tour, he will head to Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in Africa, eSwatini, formerly known as the Kingdom of Swaziland in November. Next year, he will visit the nation’s nine Latin American
and Caribbean allies and Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in Europe, the Vatican.
The trip to the Pacific islands will cost NT$90,000 (US$3,000) in plane tickets alone and Wu is now raising funds via online crowdfunding.
Wu said he plans to introduce tourist spots in these allies through the upcoming trips. He will also visit Taiwan’s embassies and technical missions in those countries and include them in films he will post on his YouTube channel.
Before embarking on the trips, Wu said he wrote to the foreign ministry to ask for advice and was surprised when the ministry wrote back and even invited him to drop by.
Wu said the foreign ministry has been very supportive of his project and asked to give him in-depth briefing on Taiwan’s diplomatic allies before his travels.
The ministry also promised to contact embassies in each country he visits so they can provide any help he might need, according to Wu.
Foreign ministry spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said the ministry supports Wu’s project as part of a more diverse and modern approach to diplomacy that makes it more accessible to the general public, especially the younger generation.
Although these trips may be little more than a footnote in Wu’s upcoming travelogue, to the ministry they represent the perfect opportunity to ensure more Taiwanese understand the government’s ongoing cooperative projects in these countries.
On his Facebook page, Wu quoted the words of renowned medieval explorer Ibn Battuta, who traveled extensively during his lifetime.
“Traveling — it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
The ministry very much hopes that after his trips Wu will become a teller of stories about Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and that through his tales, Taiwanese people will come to better understand these long-time friends of the country on the international stage.
Wu has been a full time YouTuber since this March, after he completed his compulsory military service late last year. He had previously traveled to Russia, North Korea and Indonesia.