May 26, 2021
AIT Director W. Brent Christensen’s Farewell Speech
May 26, 2021
As you may know, my three years as AIT Director will soon come to a close. I can honestly say that this assignment – serving as Director of the American Institute in Taiwan – was my dream job. And my experience exceeded my expectations in every way.
AIT was my very first assignment as a young diplomat. Taiwan is where I saw up close, for the first time, the impact of diplomacy and the potential that the U.S.-Taiwan relationship truly held. The degree to which we have already realized so much of that potential constantly amazes me. And my sense of awe – towards a society equally rich with history and innovation; unflinchingly bold yet admirably prudent; relentlessly ambitious and unceasingly generous – that sense of awe has not left me, not since my first stay as a Missionary in the late 1970s, not since my first tour as a rookie officer, not since my time as Deputy Director, and certainly not during my time as AIT Director.
Today I want to talk to you about what we have accomplished in these three years and where I see the U.S.-Taiwan partnership going in the future.
Director’s “Four Promotes”
As some of you may have heard, when I assumed office as AIT Director, I announced my four priorities, also known as my si ge zengjin: promote U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation; promote U.S.-Taiwan economic and commercial ties; promote Taiwan’s participation on the international stage; and promote U.S.-Taiwan people-to-people ties. To me, these are the most crucial parts of the U.S.-Taiwan partnership, and the ones that deserved my focus as Director. I am very proud of the progress the U.S.-Taiwan partnership has made in each of these areas over the past three years. I would like to briefly touch on each one.
Promoting U.S.-Taiwan Security Cooperation
I’ll begin with security cooperation. Our obligation to support Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability against coercion remains a foundational element of the Taiwan Relations Act. Last year, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell gave a speech in which he highlighted two declassified State Department cables that are now displayed on AIT’s website. The first cable explains that the United States’ willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan was conditioned upon the continued commitment of the PRC to a peaceful solution of cross-Strait differences. At the same time, the United States would continue providing Taiwan the equipment it needs for self-defense in accordance with the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act. The second cable offers Six Assurances to Taiwan reaffirming that commitment. The Six Assurances have long been an important element in U.S. policy towards Taiwan and the PRC. And they are now part of the public record and counted among the primary source documents that guide our cross-Strait policy.
Since I took on this role in 2018, the United States has notified more than $16.9 billion U.S. dollars in sales of defense articles to Taiwan, including traditional platforms such as F16 fighter jets and M1 tanks, as well as more agile equipment such as UAVs, HIMARS, and the Harpoon Coastal Defense System. You have probably heard a lot of talk about Taiwan’s “asymmetric capabilities” – that is, Taiwan’s ability to use its relative size and position to its advantage, rather than engage in an expensive arms race with the PRC. AIT has long advocated the need for Taiwan to focus on its asymmetric capabilities, and these cheaper, resilient, and more mobile systems support that approach.
When we mention security cooperation, I’d also like to emphasize that it’s about much more than arms sales and even extends beyond the military-to-military relationship. Allow me to share two brief examples. First, in March, we signed a memorandum of understanding on enhanced Coast Guard cooperation that will enable us to address shared maritime challenges and issues of global concern, such as narcotics trafficking and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Second, we are in the middle of a six-month long campaign – bookended by the 10th anniversary of Japan’s 3/11 triple disaster and ending with the 22nd anniversary of the 9/21 earthquake in Nantou – to highlight our robust cooperation with civilian authorities on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Beyond deepening our cooperation in this area, this campaign is also aimed at raising public awareness about the important role of personal resilience and civic readiness in confronting natural or man-made disasters.
Promoting the U.S.-Taiwan Economic and Commercial Relationship
My second priority is promoting the U.S.-Taiwan economic and commercial relationship. Taiwan is now the United States’ 9th largest trade partner, but that figure, though impressive, is just one indicator of how much and in how many ways we work together and depend on one another.
Our two-way investment relationship has flourished. In the past few years, U.S. firms such as Applied Materials, Google, Micron, and Microsoft have all made major investments in Taiwan reaffirming their faith in Taiwan’s potential for growth. Taiwan businesses’ commitment to U.S. market potential has been equally strong. The Taiwan delegation to the 2021 SelectUSA Summit, which will occur virtually June 7-11, will almost certainly be the largest from any global economy. This was also the case at the previous two Investment Summits in 2018 and 2019. TSMC’s $12 billion investment in Phoenix, AZ caught the attention of the world, but investment by their Taiwan suppliers is equally important to the success of TSMC’s investment. Other Taiwan firms appear poised to invest nearly a billion dollars to support TSMC.
The United States is also deeply committed to Taiwan’s energy security and we are eager to assist in Taiwan’s transition away from coal and nuclear power toward LNG and renewables. We were delighted that CPC chose Cheniere to provide $25 billion of LNG over the coming decades, and TPC chose GE to provide generators for the Tatan, Hsinta, and a planned new Taichung LNG powerplant. In the coming years we look forward to deepening cooperation on energy storage and other aspects of renewable energy.
More than ever, topics that used to be considered “economic” or “tech” issues – such as secure supply chains, 5G, and cybersecurity – have become critical elements of our shared national security. We launched the Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue, which enhanced our cooperation in a variety of areas including reorienting technology and medical equipment supply chains, investment screening, infrastructure financing, global health security and science and technology. We also held the third Digital Economy Forum, during which U.S. and Taiwan representatives identified ways to enhance our cooperation on issues such as 5G, AI, and digital trade.
As one of his first Executive Orders, President Joe Biden launched a review process to create more resilient and secure supply chains for critical and essential goods. As President Biden said, “building resilience will mean increasing our production of certain types of elements here at home. In others, it’ll mean working more closely with our trusted friends and partners…so that our supply chains can’t be used against us as leverage.”
We count Taiwan as one of our trusted friends and the shared work of securing supply chains is well under way. Over the past 18 months, AIT worked with Taiwan counterparts to hold a series of events large and small, public and private, bilateral and regional, to elevate and make progress on this issue. In 2020, AIT and the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) issued a joint statement on strengthening our cooperation on supply chain restructuring and resiliency, especially in the tech and medical sectors. Last October marked the first time Taiwan hosted a session during the United States’ Indo Pacific Business Forum, sharing the Taiwan Model on COVID-19 and how Taiwan forges public-private partnerships in the medical industry.
Through these and other forums, we aim to grow our respective economies, while reaffirming our shared commitment to global trade norms, internet freedom, and inclusive growth, among other values. As Taiwan’s democracy, economy, and status as a critical supplier of high-tech equipment continue to develop, I am confident we will expand our cooperation even further.
Promoting Taiwan’s International Participation
My third priority is promoting Taiwan’s participation in the international community. Over the past few years, the United States and Taiwan have held a number of multinational events that showcased Taiwan’s experience and expertise for the world. The United States and Taiwan have cohosted two rounds of the Pacific Islands Dialogue, where Pacific Island nations have the chance to learn from Taiwan’s successes in achieving sustainable, inclusive economic growth.
In 2019, we held the first ever Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region, which brought members of civil society from over 18 countries to Taipei to forge solutions to the growing trend of religious repression. We also convened the first two sessions of the annual U.S.-Taiwan Consultations on Democratic Governance in the Indo-Pacific Region and Beyond, through which the United States and Taiwan work together to promote democracy around the world.
We will continue to advocate for Taiwan’s participation in forums focused on emerging technology, so it can share its human rights-centered approach on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. And we hope that the increased presence of international NGOs in Taiwan will help provide momentum. Most recently, the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute – both U.S.-based nonpartisan nonprofit organizations – opened offices in Taipei to foster new partnerships between U.S. and Taiwan civil society to advance democratic values in other countries
The Global Cooperation and Training Framework or GCTF – the platform founded by MOFA and AIT in 2015 to bring Taiwan’s expertise and leadership to the global stage – has also expanded dramatically. We now count Japan as a permanent third cohost and enjoy a rotating cast of cohosting countries — the EU, the Netherlands, Australia, and the UK to name a few – for each of the many workshops we hold each year. We also held our first workshop outside of Taiwan. When conditions allow, we look forward to returning to in-person GCTF workshops, both in Taiwan and around the globe. Our topic areas have continued to expand and keep pace with the emerging needs of countries across the region, as demonstrated by some of our most recent workshops: combatting COVID-related disinformation, tackling marine debris, and building disaster resilience.
This year we also saw the expansion of Taiwan as an international donor and partner in development. In December 2020, Taiwan and the United States committed to supporting the Women’s Livelihood Bond Series, which blends public and private resources to empower underserved women in the Indo-Pacific region. Earlier this year, Taiwan pledged USD$250,000 during a virtual high-level meeting on “Strengthening Africa’s Resilience and Response to Ebola Virus” organized by the United States, the World Health Organization’s African Regional Agency (AFRO), the African Union-Africa CDC, and the West African Health Organization (WAHO).
As we face a multitude of global challenges – the impacts of global health pandemics; shifting supply chains; transnational terrorism and crime; the insidious spread of disinformation; and others – we cannot afford to exclude a society with so much to offer the world. As you all are aware, Beijing works constantly to impede Taiwan’s efforts to cooperate on the global stage, be it in sports and eSports, global health, law enforcement, civil aviation, or countless other areas. The coronavirus has provided us with perhaps the best and most disturbing examples of how Taiwan’s exclusion from international organizations – in this case the WHO and ICAO – hurt the entire global community. Indeed, the WHO’s World Health Assembly is taking place in Geneva right now – without Taiwan.
The United States is committed to reminding these organizations that when they prioritize political sensitivities over health and safety, they are betraying their core missions. In my three years here, we have seen an enormous increase in support from countries around the world for Taiwan’s participation in the international arena. A growing number of nations realize how important it is to have a productive partner like Taiwan, and how important it is to resist the PRC’s efforts to politicize issues like global health, counterterrorism, civil aviation, and fighting international crime.
Promoting U.S.-Taiwan People-to-People Ties
Finally, my fourth priority is promoting U.S.-Taiwan people-to-people ties. Generations of Taiwan’s most prominent political leaders, successful businesspeople, and influential cultural icons have spent time in the United States. Taiwan sends roughly the same number of students to the United States as Mexico and Germany combined. In the recent past, we have worked to continue that tradition. We introduced the Talent Circulation Alliance and launched the first Flagship Chinese-language program in Taiwan.
Last year we also launched the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative, which expands academic and teaching exchanges between the United States and Taiwan to advance two goals: helping meet U.S. demand for Mandarin education in an environment free from censorship and coercion and helping Taiwan reach its target of being bilingual by 2030. With over 150 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants here in Taiwan and more than 50 Foreign Language Teaching Assistants in the United States, we are making significant progress toward these goals. With AIT as a committed partner, Taiwan has also recently established a bilingual education center in Kaohsiung to bring together stakeholders from across the educational spectrum to enhance bilingual education.
AIT is committed to expanding our people-to-people ties across diverse communities throughout Taiwan. This year we have initiated two programs focused on women’s entrepreneurship, hands-on science programs for indigenous students, and a three-day camp encouraging young women to pursue careers in STEM, all the while continuing to highlight shared values through cultural and arts exchange programs.
We are also proud to partner with Taiwan to bring our peoples together to promote environmental stewardship. During the 2014 visit of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, the United States and Taiwan launched the International Environmental Partnership, a program focused on sharing environmental technology and best practices throughout the region. Each year AIT and Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council organize Ocean Challenge, an English-language STEM competition where Taiwanese high school and university students work with U.S. experts to tackle marine debris and climate change-related issues to protect our shared oceans. In this and other ways, we are building the next generation of youth in Taiwan and in the United States, who will work together to tackle the most pressing global challenges.
The Future of the U.S.-Taiwan Partnership
While I wish I could take full credit for this progress in the U.S.-Taiwan partnership, the truth is that it is part of a decades-long journey: Taiwan has become a more democratic, prosperous, and technologically advanced society with more and more to offer both in our bilateral relationship and to the international community. The United States has, in turn, recognized Taiwan’s growing capacity and invested more and more in this partnership. AIT’s new complex in Neihu – the construction for which began in 2010 to accommodate AIT’s expanding workforce – is a tangible example of our commitment.
And I am confident that under the Biden Administration, this pattern will continue. Every U.S. Administration aims to leave its own mark on U.S. foreign policy. I have no doubt that the Biden Administration will be no exception. Areas of focus may change – the Biden Administration has already indicated a greater interest in combatting climate change, for example. Tactics may change – the Biden Administration has indicated that it intends to utilize a multilateral approach to many problems the Trump Administration preferred to address through unilateral or bilateral action.
But the fundamentals will remain the same. Successful platforms like the GCTF, which was established when Joe Biden was Vice President, will continue to grow. We will continue to meet our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, just as we have under the past seven administrations. When it becomes safe, we will continue to encourage two-way travel between Taiwan and the United States by building on the successful 2012 implementation of the Visa Waiver Program, the 2017 implementation of Global Entry, and eventually the establishment of preclearance. Bipartisan supporters in the U.S. Congress will continue to encourage close interaction between the United States and Taiwan. And we will continue to find new areas for cooperation, guided by our shared values and interests.
In other words: I am confident that through the Biden Administration and for many years to come, we will continue to describe our bilateral relationship as “Real Friends, Real Progress.”
Final thoughts on Taiwan
Before I close, I want to convey a few final thoughts.
First, I am consistently heartened to see the many ways that Taiwan has found its place in the world: a member of the international family of democracies; a critical innovator in the world economy; a trusted trade partner to countries around the world; an esteemed contributor to the artistic and scientific endeavors shared by all of humanity. And of course, unparalleled success and generosity in the face of a global pandemic.
Second, I think the growth in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship over the past decade cannot be overstated and should not be overlooked. This may sound obvious, but I want to make this point for two reasons. First, I think we have all come to take our swift and steady progress for granted. Let me tell you, having served at embassies and consulates around the world, it is truly a rare and special relationship that grows so dramatically year after year, that does not stagnate, and never seems to reverse course. This is one of the many reasons that working at AIT is so professionally and personally rewarding.
In addition, I think it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day scorekeeping and minutiae – Is this the first time an AIT Director has done this activity or that one? Is this visitor of a higher or lower protocol rank than the one before and what does that mean? While I understand the impulse to ask these questions, I would urge everyone to keep the big picture in view: I don’t think I could come up with a single area of endeavor in which the United States and Taiwan do not share some kind of history, cooperation, or partnership. The depth and breadth of our relationship is astonishing, and somehow still growing all the time.
Finally, I have said this before and I will say it again: Taiwan has reason to be proud of its many successes. Proud of Taiwan’s transition from authoritarianism to democracy in little more than a generation. Proud of the diversity Taiwan has nurtured: diversity of religions, ethnicities, and languages; diversity of thought; and increasingly, diversity of national origin. Proud of the countless ways Taiwan is contributing to environmental stewardship, from recycling to reducing marine debris. Proud of Taiwan’s world-class industries and innovators. Proud of Taiwan’s public health system and its success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Proud of the fact that countries around the world are now clamoring to be Taiwan’s friends and partners.
And Taiwan should channel that pride into resilience and steadfastness to protect what it has built. Lately the threats have felt relentless. (Puts pineapple on the podium) But I think we can all remember a recent example of Taiwan demonstrating its resolve and unity in the face of bullying. Bullying that quickly backfired. And I am confident that as Taiwan is tested again and again in the future, Taiwan will continue to come together and show the world its strength, resilience and resolve.