Taiwan’s New Representative to the United States Outlines Challenges and Opportunities in Bilateral Relations

October 06, 2020

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan has been internationally lauded for its quick and effective response and containment of the virus. But while decisive action from Taiwanese leadership has averted one crisis, various geopolitical and economic challenges remain. On October 6, 2020, Taiwan’s new top representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, joined the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program for a virtual conversation on obstacles and recent strides in the US-Taiwan relationship.

On the economic front, Hsiao highlighted a recent announcement by Taiwanese President Ing-wen Tsai to open market access to beef and pork. According to Hsiao, trade of agricultural products has presented a historical challenge in the bilateral relationship, as the domestic politics of both the United States and Taiwan have impeded past negotiations. However, Taiwan’s need to diversify its trade provides extra incentive to negotiate a mutually beneficial deal between Taipei and Washington. She added that while it is neither feasible nor desirable to completely decouple from China, the ROC’s top trade partner, Taiwan will continue to pursue Southbound Policy, expanding trade with Southeast Asian countries, and work to further trade ties with the EU, US, and other neighbors in the region.

Throughout the course of her remarks, Hsiao emphasized overlap in the overall geostrategic goals of the United States and Taiwan. On the security front, cooperation remains strong. Taiwan maintains an asymmetrical strategy of deterrence to protect itself from external threats. Hsiao noted that as long as the PRC will not renounce the use of force against the ROC, Taiwan must make it “unpalatable” for Beijing to opt for a military conflict. This strategy, she said, is incumbent upon the continued provision of adequate defensive items from the United States. She suggested that while the United States, as a global superpower, differs from Taiwan in its approach to security and defense issues, it is in Washington’s interest to assist and encourage Taiwan as it pursues peaceful resolution of disputes in the region. Further cooperation is also needed in the cognitive space, fighting the spread of disinformation and reinforcing critical infrastructure against cyber attacks, Hsiao said.

Moderating the event, Thomas J. Christensen, Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia and Director of the China and the World Program, inquired about the diplomatic challenges Hsiao faces as a representative in Washington. While Hsiao suggested that she was pleased with the support for Taiwan shown by US representatives on Capitol Hill, she did imply that the pandemic and current campaign season in the lead-up to the 2020 elections have prevented her from arranging as many diplomatic meetings as she would like.