Taiwan: A Vital Partner in East Asia

Susan Thornton
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Remarks at the Brookings Institution
Washington, DC
May 21, 2015

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Jeff, for having me here today and for that wonderful introduction. I really appreciate all your support, advice and insight and it’s appropriate, of course, to have you here, since much of our good work with Taiwan is built on the foundation you laid.

Thank you all for coming to an event during the lunch hour. I understand that, as they say in Taiwanese, “jia beng hong day dwah,” or “lunch is more important than the Emperor.” So, I’ll keep my remarks short.

I’m here to talk about Taiwan as a vital partner for the United States in Asia, and I’d like to note at the outset what an impressive story this is. The people on Taiwan have built a robust, prosperous, free and orderly society with strong institutions, worthy of emulation and envy. And let me just say here that it warms my heart every time I hear my daughter tell someone that she was born in Taiwan. It always elicits a round of excited questions and explanations that reflect the high opinion of ordinary Americans for all that Taiwan has done and built.

We’re proud of what Taiwan has accomplished and proud of the role that the United States has played in Taiwan’s success. I’m happy to be able to point out today that the U.S.-Taiwan “unofficial relationship” has never been better. It’s worth reviewing our remarkable record of recent accomplishments, and looking at how we can build on the progress we have made.

During the Obama Administration, we have worked to re-conceptualize and re-institutionalize U.S.-Taiwan relations and build a comprehensive, durable, and mutually beneficial partnership.  We’re committed to promoting Taiwan’s economic prosperity and diversity through partnerships, and to elevating Taiwan’s profile and dignity through its contributions to global challenges and the international community.

We’re committed to supporting Taiwan’s confidence and freedom from coercion through security, and to deepening the bonds of friendship between our people.  We have taken a forward-looking approach that both respects history and allows us to advance our relations in substantive new ways.  And we are making major strides in all these areas.

Taiwan’s prosperity has been built on the frame of an open, trading economy, and ensuring continued openness and diversification has been a focus of our work together.  Taiwan is now our tenth-largest trading partner, on par with economies such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and India. Taiwan is also our seventh-largest destination for agricultural exports. For an island of 23 million people, this is an impressive achievement.  Throughout the Obama Administration, trade relations with Taiwan have grown, and we have worked hard together to resolve ongoing market access issues.

While more remains to be done, we can congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved in areas like financial sector liberalization, improvements in the investment environment and overcoming some technical barriers to trade.  Going forward, we will continue to work on outstanding items, such as bringing Taiwan’s regulations into line with science-based, international standards. We will also work to improve trade and investment regulations in the areas of intellectual property protection, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other technical barriers to trade.  Doing so could have a transformative effect on perceptions of Taiwan’s attractiveness for inclusion in further regional trade agreements. We must work together to find and open new areas for global growth.

Meanwhile, two-way investment continues to expand. Taiwan is a major investor in the United States, with billions of dollars in FDI stock and always has one of the largest delegations at our annual SelectUSA summits. In 2013, the CEO delegation led by former Vice President Vincent Siew announced more than $2 billion in new investments in the United States, which is good business for Taiwan companies and provides good jobs for American workers.

Taken together, these increased trade and investment ties have also advanced our goal of helping Taiwan diversify its economy and avoid over-reliance on any single trading partner. In today’s complex globalized economy, this is prudent strategy.  The resilience, talents and determination of the Taiwan people have also been appreciated in the international community, where we have been working to help showcase Taiwan’s contributions to good stewardship. This is a strategically significant growth area of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.

Taiwan has shown that it has a lot to offer in the way of experience, capacity and resources to assist with all kinds of global challenges.  This is why we continue to support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations where statehood is not a requirement, and encourage its meaningful participation in international organizations where its membership is not possible.  For example, Taiwan’s meaningful participation in APEC, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the World Health Organization have helped make the world a richer, safer, and healthier place. And there are many more venues where Taiwan’s contributions can make a difference.

Outside of formal international organizations, Taiwan has been a generous donor to efforts that advance global U.S. priorities.  After Secretary of State John Kerry made a global appeal for the international community to provide assistance to West Africa after the Ebola outbreak, Taiwan donated 100,000 sets of personal protective equipment and $1 million cash to meet the most urgent needs of stricken patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Taiwan then established a training center to help equip health workers in the Asia-Pacific region with the tools needed to contain an outbreak of Ebola or other dangerous infectious diseases.  In the Latin American and Caribbean region, Taiwan has worked closely with the Pan-American Development Foundation to boost preparedness and strengthen countries’ ability to deal with these kinds of dangerous infectious diseases.

We have also worked with Taiwan to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in many of the world’s most prominent crises.  Taiwan has donated money and supplies to help people who have had to flee their homes in Iraq and Syria, including by delivering 350 pre-fabricated shelters to camps in northern Iraq.  Taiwan authorities and NGOs have also provided disaster relief in many locations in recent years, including in Japan, the Philippines, Haiti, the Pacific Islands, and most recently in Nepal.

Finally, we have welcomed Taiwan undertaking a leadership role in addressing the world’s environmental challenges. A great example of this is the International Environmental Partnership, or IEP, which Taiwan announced during EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s visit to Taiwan in April 2014.  Through the IEP, Taiwan has hosted environmental training sessions in Southeast Asia, and launched the Cities Clean Air Partnership, which encourages cities across the Asia-Pacific region to reduce global air pollution.

And just last week, Taiwan successfully hosted its first regional renewable energy conference, which featured energy policy officials and utility executives from seven countries across the Asia-Pacific region as well as the United States.  In the coming weeks, we will launch a new Global Partner Framework with Taiwan, which will expand the scope for cooperation to facilitate Taiwan’s contributions to humanitarian challenges around the globe.

In the security area, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense.  We believe our policy supports improved relations across the Taiwan Strait by providing Taiwan with confidence to pursue constructive interactions with mainland China.

We also support Taiwan’s efforts to develop innovative and asymmetric capabilities to deter coercion or intimidation.  In the spirit of this commitment, the Obama Administration has notified Congress of over $12 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, providing additional defensive capability that makes a real contribution to Taiwan’s security.  While arms sales are an important component of our overall security relationship, they are far from the only measure. Our bilateral military exchanges and engagements have nearly doubled in recent years, increasing the quality of interactions between our service members.

We have also expanded our people-to-people exchanges. In 2012, we announced Taiwan’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program, which made travel between the United States and Taiwan much easier and less costly. In the first year of the Visa Waiver Program, travel from Taiwan to the United States increased 35%, bringing more jobs and tourism dollars to our shores.

And Taiwan continues to entrust tens of thousands of its brightest young minds to the quads and campuses of America’s vaunted educational institutions, sending more students to the United States each year than Japan, the UK, or Germany. In 2014, students from Taiwan contributed three-quarters of a billion dollars to the U.S. economy.

Top U.S. and Taiwan scholars continue to collaborate long after they are out of school. For example, our Fulbright program is very popular in Taiwan, with President Ma Ying-jeou regularly appearing at our Fulbright conferences and former Premier Jiang Yi-huah continues to serve as chair of our vibrant Fulbright Alumni association.  This impressive list of accomplishments leaves no doubt that Taiwan has been a vital partner, not just for the United States, but for the region.

Through the efforts of the Obama Administration and the Taiwan authorities, we have increased our prosperity, improved our security, and strengthened international partnerships and ties between our people.  But we can’t be complacent or rest on our laurels, and it’s worth reflecting here on what it will take to continue to move relations between the United States and Taiwan forward. What is the secret recipe or the ingredients for our continued success?

U.S.-Taiwan relations have always enjoyed bipartisan support in both Washington and Taipei, and it will be important to continue this pattern. Bipartisanship can sometimes be in short supply, seemingly increasingly so, but it is essential for stable and successful relationships, like ours with Taiwan.  We are all aware that Taiwan will hold Presidential and legislative elections in January 2016, and we look forward to another dazzling display of Taiwan’s robust democracy in action.  This display is the product of decades of hard work and determination to cherish the will of the people and build durable governing institutions.

We look forward to once again seeing this vibrant democracy in action, but I want to make it clear in advance that the United States does not take any position on the candidates.  Some of you may know that DPP Chair Tsai Ing-wen will be visiting Washington early next month. We welcome her visit and look forward to a productive exchange. We also welcome other candidates to visit, should they wish to do so.  Regardless of who becomes the next Taiwan president, we hope to continue our close cooperation.

And it must be said that an important ingredient of that close cooperation in recent years has been the stable management of cross-Strait ties.  We have an abiding interest in the preservation of cross-Strait stability, and this interest informs our overall approach to cross-Strait issues.  The United States remains committed to our one-China policy, based on the Three Joint Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, a policy that has remained consistent over several decades and many administrations.

We have welcomed the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years to reduce tensions and improve cross-Strait relations.  We encourage authorities in both Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect.  Our policy on cross-Strait relations is not directed only at one side of the Taiwan Strait or the other. There should be no unilateral attempts to change the status quo, and that applies to both sides.

Even as we discuss our abiding interest in peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations with our friends on Taiwan, we also encourage Beijing to demonstrate flexibility and restraint.  The benefits that stable cross-Strait ties have brought to both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the United States, and the region have been enormous.  It is important that both sides of the Strait understand the importance of these benefits and work to establish a basis for continued peace and stability.  Maintaining close communication and a no-surprises, low-key approach has allowed all parties to demonstrate restraint and flexibility. We want to see this approach continue.

In conclusion, the efforts made over the last six years to reconceptualize relations with Taiwan have allowed us to deepen the bonds of friendship between the people of Taiwan and the people of the United States.

We consider Taiwan to be a vital partner, a democratic success story, and a force for good in the world. It shares our values, has earned our respect, and continues to merit our support.

We look forward to continuing our work together in the years ahead.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing your questions.