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Mayor Lai Visits Israel for the 31st International Mayors Conference

Tainan Mayor William Lai recently visited Israel to take part in the 31st International Mayors Conference. Invited by the Government of Israel, he and 22 other mayors from around the world met for a discussion on making cities smart, sustainable and safe.

During his visit, Mayor Lai had meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely. He also visited several of Israel’s main cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Nazareth, where he exchanged ideas about city development with local mayors. 

At the conference, Mayor Lai shared his experience of promoting business startups and green technology, and of working to develop Tainan into a smart city. His involvement in the conference and interaction with other mayors was helpful to raising Tainan’s international visibility and expanding its opportunities for international city-to-city connection and cooperation.

The host country used the conference to showcase Israel’s advancement in smart city development. Since Tainan is actively pursuing smart city development, it was encouraging to find that many of its smart city concepts and methods are closely similar to Israel’s. It also confirmed that the direction of Tainan’s smart city efforts is substantially in alignment with the best international models. Mayor Lai was very pleased with what he learned about the latest smart city technologies and how Tainan might be able to utilize them. Israel is often dubbed the “Startup Nation”, with a well established reputation for being top of the world in enterprise startup and innovation. To help Mayor Lai learn more about this, the conference organizers arranged for him to visit a local startup park and see how a derelict old building had been converted to use for incubating startups.

A particular feature of Israel’s startup ecology is the way the government collaborates closely with local academic institutions to make startups utilizing new technologies into main drivers of national economic development. A similar approach has been in effect in Tainan for a long time. There are many excellent examples of collaborative initiatives to provide locations and facilities where Tainan’s young entrepreneurs can develop their creative ideas. These include the Blueprint Culture and Creative Park, the Big O Co-working Space established in 2014 by Chang Jung Christian University with City Government support, and the Big O2 Startup Base in the basement of Nanying Green Heart Park. 

Another similarity between Israel and Taiwan is that both countries face difficulties from the diplomatic opposition of neighboring countries. Therefore, when Mayor Lai met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he asked the Israel leader for his suggestions on how to cope with this situation. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that a nation must first ensure its capability for self-reliance and self-protection. Then, it would be able to change neighboring countries’ perception of it, and move on to forming alliances with those countries.

The Prime Minister also emphasized that, although Israel is a small country that has often been embroiled in military conflicts with surrounding countries, it had crucially been able to find issues on which it could enter into alliance with those countries. Such issues included technology and Internet security, both of which were realms in which modern nations could find grounds for working together. As a further example, he said that whereas Israel had long been considered to have a rather tense relationship with the Arab countries around it, that situation had begun to change with the emergence of the Islamic State in recent years, and now it had entered into progressive collaboration with Egypt, Jordan and others to enhance Internet security and combat terrorism. 

Mayor Lai’s visit to Israel enabled him to look closely at Israel’s advanced achievements in promoting high-tech startups, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, internet security, and smart cities. He also saw how Israel had managed to overcome its lack of natural resources and become a global leader in drip irrigation techniques, organic produce export, and water recycling. All these achievements have emanated from Israel’s long-term prioritization of education, placing emphasis on nurturing talent in all fields, which has enabled it to make human resources into its most important national asset. 

Tainan’s mayor said that there are many lessons to be drawn from Israel’s successes. Its accomplishments demonstrate that, even while you are making improvements to infrastructure, you still vitally need prime human resources to act as the main driving force of a country’s advancement. Therefore, as the central government proceeds with planning to build a green energy technology park and an international film park in Tainan, the city government must step up collaboration with schools at every level and intensify support for talent cultivation. It is vital that we can supply sufficient talent in all fields, to meet the needs of innovation and vanguard enterprise startup.