《Taiwan's Representative to the United States Bi-khim Hsiao was one of the most attention-gathering invitees to the presidential inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden this January. It was the first instance in 42 years for the U.S. government to officially invite Taiwan’s top representative since the severance of the diplomatic relations with Taiwan as a result of the establishment of the U.S.-China relationship in 1979. The scene at President Biden's inauguration ceremony was interpreted as Washington's strong determination to cooperate with Taiwan amid a backlash from China.
Washington and Taiwan have since then got even closer to each other as expected over the last six months. Their multi-faceted efforts range from security cooperation initiatives regarding the Taiwan Strait to semiconductors to pandemic response, leaving Beijing uneasy enough to elevate an atmosphere of menace. With tensions between Washington and China growing over time, Hsiao serves not only as a key person but also as the nation’s highest-ranking diplomat in Washington to respond to her U.S. counterparts in diplomatic settings.》
In celebration of her first anniversary as the Taiwanese representative to the United States, Hsiao had an interview with The Dong-A Ilbo late last month, saying, “Our top priority is to maintain regional stability and peace in the Taiwan Strait and beyond.” “It is not a matter only for Taiwan but a common issue for the interests of other regional stakeholders.” Asked about cooperation with South Korea, she replied that South Korea is well-known as one of the most influential manufacturers in the semiconductor industry, adding that Taiwan looks forward to capitalizing on opportunities for both of the nations to complement each other and enhance their strong points. Below is a Q&A with her.
- You gained a great deal of attention when you were officially invited as Taiwan’s representative to President Joe Biden’s inauguration event. Can you explain the meaning of your attendance?
“It is a great honor to be part of an occasion that hails U.S. democracy since it signifies that Taiwan is recognized as one of the world’s leading democracies as well as Washington’s partner in democracy. My goal is to help deepen the bilateral relationship between the United States and Taiwan. In terms of the way China perceives our relationship, it is important that the foundation of our relationship is based on values as well as interests.
- Washington has been constantly strengthening its relationship with Taiwan. What motivates the two nations to get closer to each other at this point?
“Both of us are faced with a set of similar challenges. The U.S. government has recently got involved in a systemic competition on my fronts with China , and Taiwan has been at the forefronts of such competition against China for several decades. The nature of Taiwan as a free and open democracy binds us together and provides a basis for the two nations’ friendship and U.S. support of Taiwan. It is more of a matter of principles rather than of interests. It all comes down to helping out and side with your friend in the face of trouble.”
- Military tensions between Washington and Beijing are only building up across the Taiwan Strait. What is Taiwan’s concern?
“The top priority from our side is to ensure stability and peace across the region. It matters not only to Taiwan but also to the rest of the regional stakeholders. The stability of the Taiwan Strait has global consequences, therefore it is important that others take an interest in supporting our need to maintain peace in the region."
- U.S. high-ranking officials have repeatedly warned about possibilities of China’s invasion into Taiwan within the next six years.
“Taiwanese people have lived under military threat from China over several decades. It will continue to be a problem for the people of Taiwan as long as the Chinese do not renounce the use of force. However, we are in the dynamic process of enhancing our capabilities of curbing its threats. I see that we are in a position to deter the Chinese by making it their consideration of an invasion too costly to operationalize.
- There is a reluctance in South Korea to officially support Taiwan as for the issue of the Taiwan Strait because of its relationship with China in mind.
“It is clear that peace in the Taiwan Strait is a very important matter that has global consequences. Again, it would be in everyone's interest to see stability and peace maintained, to do what is possible to deter any kind of destabilizing moves and any unilateral changes to this to the stable situation in the Taiwan Strait on part of the PRC.
- When Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen conveyed her concerns over the floods in China, her message was met with China’s thanks. Do you see that such moves can open up a channel for the two nations to improve their relations?
"I think my president expressed their sympathies out of a spirit of humane concern for the loss of lives. It would be a tragedy for people anywhere around the world including the people of China.
There is a genuine respect for human life and condolences over the loss of human life. I think it is important that that our concerns are expressed.
- What role can Taiwan’s technological capabilities play in the ongoing technological competition between Washington and Beijing in the semiconductor industry?
“Taiwan shares common interests so that security across the global supply chain can stay intact to be protected against any pandemic, abuse of technology and theft of intellectual property. In a situation where the global supply chain is faced with bottlenecks, Taiwan is certainly part of the solution. Major Taiwanese businesses consider expanding supply networks not only domestically but also in the United States. That is why they have decided to make large investments in the U.S. Taiwan has always hoped to be part of a solution and will make sure to identify opportunities to have a positive effect.”
- Do you expect that Taiwan will forge a closer cooperative relationship with South Korea in semiconductor?
“Taiwan and South Korea maintain a deeply strong trade partnership. We are open to any opportunity to complement each other and make both of us more capable and competent. I am aware that South Korea has a great influence on the semiconductor industry. Thus, I think that both of us can cooperate as long as we share a common goal, which is technological advancement that will take humanity to the next level. A shared purpose between us is to invent technologies not to control and monitor citizens but to make quality of life better for all in cooperation with our partnering nations.”
- How do Taiwan cooperate on vaccine development with the United States?
“Last year’s visit by then-U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar to Taiwan implies that Washington was a demonstration of the U.S., commitment to work with Taiwan and global health. Taiwan has been trying to find more opportunities through the World Health Organization for many years, but unfortunately, we remain marginalized and excluded from that institution. It is a loss for the world. I think the pandemic has highlighted the need to be more inclusive, the principle of universality. Thus, our cooperative relationship with the United States in the healthcare sector holds great importance as we are not able to find any global organization to work with.”
- What sector do you think Taiwan can cooperate with South Korea other than the economy?
“There has been a growing public interest across Taiwan in South Korea’s pop music, dramas and films. Many friends of mine enjoy watching K-dramas at home during the COVID-19 era. Such a high level of cultural exchange and coalition among people can serve as the basis for the shared goal of democracy. It is people that bridge a cultural relationship and government-led policies. I hope that Taiwanese citizens’ openness and hospitality toward South Korean culture will help strengthen the two nations’ friendship and improve their bond.”
Hsiao did the interview at Twin Oaks Estate in Washington, D.C. -a former Taiwanese embassy building used before the United States severed its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan. Filled with classic Chinese furniture, pottery and a set of glittering silverware used for banquets, the building still seems to represent the traces of Taiwan’s confidence and pride in diplomatic activities toward the United States before the severance of the diplomatic relationship. Reminded that the U.S. State Department early this year lifted a restrictive guideline to limit contact with Taiwanese authorities, she said, “We are now able to welcome a larger group of friends by engaging in a closer and more direct relationship,” with a proud smile on her face and resolution in her words.