May 25: US-Taiwan Relations in the 21st Century: An Expanding Global Economic Partnership

May 25: US-Taiwan Relations in the 21st Century: An Expanding Global Economic Partnership

Wednesday, May 25, 2022 from 9:30AM-11:00AM (ET)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

As recently reiterated by President Joe Biden, US policy towards the Indo-Pacific is intended to promote both democracy and a new economic framework for the region, as well as to maintain longstanding American commitments to Taiwan. In this spirit, a forthcoming report by the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) titled “US-Taiwan Relations in the 21st Century: Building the Foundation for a Global Partnership” examines ways that the United States—in consultation with Taiwan and like-minded partners—can help Taiwan strengthen relations with its diplomatic and non-diplomatic partners, actively participate in international organizations, and expand its regional and global economic ties. This webinar will focus particularly on the economic dimensions of Taiwan’s international space. 

This webinar will feature opening remarks by Ambassador Hsiao Bi-khim, who serves as representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office to the United States. This will be followed by a panel discussion with Ambassador Kurt Tong (The Asia Group), Riley Walters (Hudson Institute/GTI), and Robert Wang (CSIS/GTI). The event will be moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

The event webcast will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, May 25 at 9:30 AM (ET). Register for the event here. Questions for the panelists may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. Questions submitted by registered audience members will be prioritized.

Opening Remarks:

Ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao assumed her position as Taiwan’s representative to the United States in July 2020, after serving as a senior advisor to the president at the National Security Council of Taiwan. Representative Hsiao previously served four terms in the Taiwan Legislature, representing overseas citizens for the first term, and then the constituents of Taipei City and Hualien County through different terms. For many years she was ranking member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and previously the chair of the USA Caucus in the Legislative Yuan. She began her political career serving as director of the Democratic Progressive Party International Affairs Department. After Taiwan’s first democratic change of government in 2000, she became an advisor in the Office of the President and was international spokesperson for all DPP presidential elections between 2000 and 2012. Representative Hsiao has taken on numerous leadership roles in international organizations. She was the chair of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), an organization representing Asian democratic political parties. Between 2005 and 2012, she was elected vice president on the Bureau of Liberal International (LI), a London-based global political party organization. She is also a founding board member of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Born in Kobe, Japan, Representative Hsiao grew up in Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan. She has an MA in political science from Columbia University in New York and BA in East Asian studies from Oberlin College, Ohio.

The Panelists:

Ambassador Kurt Tong is a partner and member of the Executive Committee at The Asia Group, where he leads the firm’s work in Japan and Hong Kong, and on East Asia regional policy matters. Prior to joining The Asia Group, Ambassador Tong served as consul general and chief of mission in Hong Kong and Macau, leading US political and economic engagement with that important free trade hub. Prior to that role, he served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for economic and business affairs at the State Department from 2014 to 2016, guiding the Department’s institutional strengthening efforts as its most senior career diplomat handling economic affairs. He also served as the deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Tokyo from 2011 to 2014, where he played a key role in setting the stage for Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and supporting Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake. In 2013, he received the Cordell Hull Award for Economic Achievement by Senior Officers for his outstanding success in advancing US economic interests by reducing trade barriers, increasing market access for American products, and enhancing international cooperation across the Asia Pacific region. He also received Presidential Meritorious Service Awards for 2011 and 2018. Earlier in his career, Ambassador Tong served as economic minister-counselor in Seoul, counselor for environment, science, and health at the US Embassy in Beijing, deputy treasury attaché in Tokyo, and as an economic officer in Manila.

Riley Walters is deputy director of the Japan Chair at Hudson Institute, as well as a senior non-resident fellow at GTI. He was formerly the senior policy analyst and economist in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. He specializes in macroeconomic issues as well as issues on foreign investment, trade, and technology. Walters has appeared on national television and radio extensively. In the past, he has written for a variety of publications including The DiplomatThe HillWashington TimesThe National InterestFox Business, and more. Walters is a former Penn Kemble Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy and George C. Marshall Fellow with The Heritage Foundation. He was a Mosaic Taiwan fellow with Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is a national security fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Robert Wang is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, as well as a member of GTI’s Advisory Board. Wang was a career foreign service officer in the US Department of State from 1984 to 2016. He served as the senior US official for APEC from 2013 to 2015. From 2011 to 2013, Wang was the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Beijing and from 2006 to 2009 the deputy director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). He was an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service from 2015 to 2016, and a visiting fellow with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS from 2009 to 2010.

The Moderator:

Russell Hsiao is the executive director of GTI, senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. He is a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. He previously served as a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute and National Security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007- to July 2011 and a special associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the US Trade Representative. Hsiao received his JD and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University’s Journal of Law and Technology. He received a BA in international studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event Summary

On May 25, the Global Taiwan Institute hosted an online panel discussion titled US-Taiwan Relations in the 21st Century: An Expanding Global Economic Partnership. The event began with remarks from Ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s  representative to the United States, followed by a discussion with Robert Wang, Riley Walters, and Ambassador Kurt Tong. After expressing her excitement for this event and GTI’s other achievements, Hsiao elaborated on Taiwan’s significance in the world, including its successful management of the COVID-19 pandemic, stable manufacturing of semiconductors, and resilient democracy, which has become even more important since Russia began its invasion in Ukraine. She also thanked Taiwan’s international partners, including the United States, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic for their constant support. To conclude, she stated Taiwan’s resolution to further its contributions to the world.

Following this introduction, Robert Wang addressed two questions: first, why should the United States help Taiwan expand its economic ties; second, how should it do so. To begin with, he drew attention to the US State Department’s recent fact sheet that recognizes Taiwan as a key partner to the United States in trade, science, education, and the promotion of democratic values. He claimed that the document also reflects the importance of Taiwan to the United States in countering China’s growing power. Moving on, Wang described China’s attempts to reel Taiwan into its sphere of influence by attracting the island with economic, business, and technological incentives, particularly amidst US-China competition. In addition, Wang pointed to the skepticism among Taiwanese toward the United States as it continues its tradition of strategic ambiguity despite the tension around the island. To address the second question, Wang urged the US government to sign a free trade agreement with Taiwan, which could be bilateral or regional like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Riley Walters agreed with Wang on the importance of US-Taiwan ties while acknowledging US frustrations over trade concerns. He expressed his disappointment with IPEF, as the framework is fairly insubstantial and does not incorporate Taiwan. By illustrating the benefits Taiwan would bring not just to the United States but also to the regional community, Walters highlighted the necessity of solving the historical marginalization of Taiwan from international institutions. For this, he criticized the US reluctance to pursue initiatives to improve Taiwan’s international status. 

Ambassador Tong then analyzed the US-Taiwan relationship in terms of US objectives. Although he claimed Taiwan is not the only priority for the United States, he explained the US’ interest in maintaining stability across the Taiwan Strait. To do so, he argued that the United States should continue to meet Taiwan’s expectations while also developing active initiatives to reinforce Taiwan’s security rather than merely passing another act in Congress. Regarding IPEF, he stated that the framework was unlikely to help the island, as it was designed mainly for Southeast Asian countries. He argued that the United States should prepare and advance another framework like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to integrate and promote Taiwan in the international community. Additionally, Tong emphasized Taiwan’s struggles with technology denial and the need to solve this problem to enhance the security system in the region.

During the facilitated discussion, Walters acknowledged the difficulty for additional economies—including Taiwan—to join IPEF, as it would require refinement in the first few years of implementation. Wang then argued that the United States should expand the trade agreement and encourage the signing of bilateral or multilateral frameworks between Taiwan and its neighbors, such as Japan and South Korea. Ambassador Tong reiterated that frameworks like IPEF should become more open to potential members and abandon their “club-like” exclusiveness. 

As for technology denial and rising cross-Strait tension, Ambassador Tong expressed his pessimism toward imposing economic and financial sanctions on China, even though solving these problems would bring a great benefit to the international community. Similarly, Wang noted that China is aware of the consequences it would bear should it invade Taiwan, especially after the Russian invasion ofUkraine, which made him skeptical about the necessity of pre-planning against Beijing’s speculated military reunification of Taiwan. Walters then turned to the anticipated growth of China’s military capabilities by 2025, as well as Japan’s more forward-leaning stance on Taiwan, both of which have raised the difficulty of explicit dialogues on Taiwan security.

Coming back to the discussion on the integration of Taiwan in international economic frameworks, Wang warned that existing frameworks should not be used as platforms to embarrass China and unnecessarily increase tension. Walters, on the other hand, welcomed the resuming of TIFA talks after the hiatus of diplomacy during the Trump Administration, but he expressed his concern that a greater economic agreement may be replaced by TIFA, which itself should be a forum for further integration of Taiwan into other frameworks. Ambassador Tong also stated that the United States can at least try to invite Taiwan to CPTPP, which it has left, although the procedure might take a while to complete.

To conclude the event, the three panelists reemphasized that the US government should take immediate action to pull Taiwan to its side and avoid underestimating the power of China. Furthermore, this should be achieved not just through an enhanced bilateral relationship, but also through international influence and commitments that the United is capable of producing.

This event summary was written by GTI Summer Intern Koji Kawamoto.

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