An official website of the United States government

Keynote Speech by AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk at Association of International Relations’ Annual Conference
November 26, 2021


Keynote Speech by AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk at Association of International Relations’ Annual Conference
“The United States, Taiwan, and the Broader Indo-Pacific Region: Challenges & Opportunities”

(As Prepared for Delivery)


Good morning, Deputy Foreign Minister Tien, current and former government officials, scholars and students, colleagues, friends, members of the media and distinguished guests.  It is an honor to address this esteemed group in my capacity as the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan.  I would like to especially thank National Taiwan University and the Association of International Relations for giving me the opportunity to speak with you all.

We have learned during the pandemic that, now more than ever, forums like this one are critical to foster collaboration on shared challenges and build bridges among diverse viewpoints.  I am excited to play a part in bringing us together today.

Today, I would like to use this opportunity to express my view on how we can advance our shared vision for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, resilient, and inclusive.  As part of that vision, I want to recognize the challenges we face, highlight the principles that will guide America as we tackle these challenges, and showcase the U.S.-Taiwan partnership as an example of how we can work together to seize opportunities for a brighter future.

As you may know, this is my second time living in Taiwan.  Looking at the dramatic changes both in Taiwan and across the Indo-Pacific region since my first tour here in the early 1990s to now, I’ve observed some cross-cutting trends.  On one hand, Taiwan has developed into a vibrant democracy and an advanced economy, and the U.S.-Taiwan partnership has continued to deepen.  On the other hand, the United States and Taiwan face a regional and global landscape that is more challenging and complex than ever.

The rules-based international order faces pressure from revanchist states that choose nationalism over cooperation.  The rules-based international order has fostered peace and stability, enabling the world to address transnational challenges from armed conflict to climate change, but it is not guaranteed – we must work hard together to maintain and strengthen it.

Meanwhile, authoritarian states are advancing, threatening democratic societies, civil society groups, and a free press across the globe.  Instead of empowering their citizens, many leaders have chosen to double down on repressive policies and information warfare to protect their grip on power.

Beyond the critical global health crisis posed by COVID-19, the pandemic continues to ravage the global economy and international supply chains.  Disrupted supply chains not only threaten advanced high-tech sectors, but also adversely impact local livelihoods, regional economic development, and international commerce.

In the Indo-Pacific region, America’s effort to resolve and manage differences with the leadership of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) faces distinct challenges.

This issue is of critical importance because we have observed a range of PRC actions that run counter to our values and interests and those of our allies and partners. These actions undermine the rules-based international order that has ushered in the longest period of peace and most dramatic growth in prosperity in history.  The PRC’s repressive actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, military adventurism in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, discriminatory economic policies and economic coercion of our allies, as well as cyberattacks on the United States and many others all threaten the rules-based order.

The PRC’s increasingly aggressive behavior is nowhere more evident than in relation to Taiwan, where the PRC has continued to exert military, diplomatic, and economic pressure.  The PRC’s provocative military activities near Taiwan are destabilizing, risk miscalculation, and undermine regional peace and stability.  Continued efforts by Beijing to choke Taiwan’s international space, pressure its friends, and interfere in Taiwan’s democratic system represent a threat to all democracies.

So the question is: how do we, the United States and our allies and partners, approach this new, more challenging geostrategic landscape?

As I look at how the Biden administration is confronting these global and regional challenges in its first year in office, I see a foreign policy that reflects continuity in core principles and interests, and tactical changes that ensure America is adapting as challenges evolve.  I would like to highlight three hallmarks to this approach.

We recognize that American leadership matters.

As President Biden has said, “America cannot afford to be absent…We are a country that does big things.  American diplomacy makes it happen.”  In the absence of U.S. leadership and engagement, other countries will step in to advance competing interests and values, or no one will step in, and we will be left with a more chaotic world.

We also recognize that democracies matter.

President Biden has said that the challenge of our time is to demonstrate that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people and by addressing the greatest problems facing the wider world.  The upcoming Summit for Democracy demonstrates American’s commitment to this principle, to advance an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and tackle today’s greatest threats facing democracies through collective action.  We will do this in partnership with democratic partners with shared values, like Taiwan.

Finally, we recognize that cooperation matters.

This area provides a potent example where U.S. tactics are adapting to meet the challenges we face.  We need countries to cooperate, now more than ever.  The Biden administration is using a multilateral approach to many problems where a unilateral or bilateral approach did not succeed.  Well aware of our differences with Beijing, we will work to responsibly manage competition between the United States and the PRC, while working together in areas where our interests align.  We see this in terms of developing regional architecture within the Quad and initiatives like AUKUS on the security side; as well as on the climate change issue with the United States’ leadership at the recently held COP26.

Zooming in on the Indo-Pacific region, these principles help explain why a key priority of the Biden administration is standing with allies and partners to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the region, which includes peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.  By exercising U.S. leadership, mobilizing our allies and partners – particularly fellow democracies – and fostering cooperation, we can create opportunities for a more stable Indo-Pacific.

The U.S.-Taiwan partnership demonstrates this approach.  U.S. support for Taiwan remains rock-solid, principled, and bipartisan and is in line with America’s one China policy and longstanding American commitments.  We are deepening engagement and connections with the people of Taiwan consistent with U.S. interests and our “one China” policy guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

The U.S. commitment to Taiwan contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.  We can see how this commitment helps to create opportunities for a more stable and resilient region by looking at key elements of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, with initiatives spanning political, economic, and security cooperation.

First, we are working together to create opportunities that will expand Taiwan’s international space and bolster people-to-people ties.  Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the UN system and other international organizations is not a political issue, but a pragmatic one.  The international community requires all hands-on deck to address transnational issues and that includes the 24 million people who live in Taiwan.

This year, the United States and Taiwan significantly expanded the Global Cooperation and Training Framework, demonstrating Taiwan’s willingness and capacity to address global challenges through multilateral collaboration.

AIT and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) have also convened high-level representatives of the Department of State and the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a regular virtual forum on expanding Taiwan’s participation at the United Nations and in other international fora.  In the past, when Taiwan has participated in certain UN specialized agencies, its value and contributions were clear.  Likewise, Taiwan’s robust participation in APEC, where it is a full member, has provided concrete proof of the capabilities, expertise, and value it can bring to bear to international organizations, especially when given the opportunity to effect positive change in the lives of people in the region.  However, Taiwan has not recently been permitted to contribute to UN efforts and Taiwan’s expertise on COVID-19 remains excluded from the World Health Assembly, which is a detriment to the world.  America will support Taiwan as it resists the PRC’s efforts to constrain its appropriate participation on the world stage.

Two weeks from now, I am excited that Taiwan will participate in the virtual Summit for Democracy.  The Summit for Democracy offers an extraordinary opportunity to mobilize international action to support democracy, human rights, and the fight against corruption.  Taiwan’s world-class expertise on issues of transparent governance, human rights, and countering disinformation will contribute significantly over the “Year of Action” that follows towards our shared project of global democratic renewal.

People to people ties remain the bedrock of our relationship.  These ties are deep and historical.  Thousands of students and teachers, business people, and tourists move back and forth between our shores every year, and we look forward to those numbers returning after the pandemic ends.  The U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative is a concrete example of how we work together to facilitate language teaching and learning in support of both Taiwan’s and the United States’ priorities in this area.  Taiwan currently has one of the largest Fulbright programs in the world, hosting over 300 American scholars and teachers per year.  AIT is also supporting programs with partners in Taiwan on civilian resilience, economic empowerment for women and indigenous communities, combatting climate change, and jointly countering PRC disinformation.

Next, we are continuing to develop economic ties and engagement with Taiwan in a number of ways, some of them with newer policy initiatives.  As Asia’s “Silicon Island,” Taiwan is a central node of the globe’s semiconductor ecosystem and a cutting-edge pioneer on emerging technologies ranging from 5G-ORAN to artificial intelligence.  With that said, the U.S.-Taiwan economic relationship is broader than just one industry.  Taiwan was the seventh-largest consumer of U.S. agricultural products and our ninth-largest trading partner in 2020.  Of our top ten partners, only Canada and Mexico trade more with the United States on a per capita basis.

To advance bilateral trade and investment, starting in June the United States and Taiwan re-launched Trade and Investment Framework Agreement talks.  We have since established bilateral working groups on agriculture, intellectual property, labor, and technical barriers to trade and investment which will help set the stage for broader and more consistent engagement moving forward.

Earlier this week, the United States and Taiwan held our second Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue.  This dialogue has helped to reinforce existing areas of economic cooperation, forge new economic ties between the United States and Taiwan and build a coalition to counter the PRC’s unfair economic and investment policies.

One growing focus for bilateral cooperation is countering cybersecurity threats.  Cybersecurity is both a national and economic security issue.  The Biden administration is taking key measures to prioritize and elevate cybersecurity by strengthening technology supply chains, hardening critical infrastructure, and expanding international cooperation to hold accountable nations who harbor ransomware criminals.  In October, AIT held a Global Cooperation and Training Framework meeting with Taiwan and Japan on just this issue, highlighting how our law enforcement agencies can work together to disrupt illegal activity in cyberspace.  As America and Taiwan both work to safeguard our economy and key industries from cyber threats, it is critical that we work together as partners and learn from one another.

I would encourage all of you here to go back to your home institutions with one thought – cybersecurity is everyone’s individual responsibility.  “We cannot rely on the IT guy.”  We must work together to build a culture of cybersecurity as a foundation of economic growth, innovation, democratic systems, and security.

Regarding the crucial role Taiwan plays in global supply chains, including in critical technologies like semiconductors, we will continue to work together to ensure these supply chains remain safe and secure.  As one of his first Executive Orders, President Biden launched a review process to create more resilient and secure supply chains for critical and essential goods.  As the President said, “building resilience will mean increasing our production of certain types of elements here at home.  In others, it will mean working more closely with our trusted friends and partners…so that our supply chains can’t be used against us as leverage.”

Next, on security cooperation, we remain committed to helping Taiwan maintain its ability to deter aggression and to defend itself and to work together on shared challenges like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Indo-Pacific region.  We have a shared and abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.  We consider this central to the security and stability of the broader Indo-Pacific region and to the United States and are deeply concerned by ongoing PRC efforts to undermine that stability.

Against this backdrop, the United States will continue to abide by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances, to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.

The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the same Taiwan Relations Act and is consistent with our “one China” policy.  President Biden voted for the Taiwan Relations Act himself and remains firmly committed to the principles therein, including that the United States will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability and that the United States will maintain the capacity to resist coercive actions that would jeopardize the security of the people of Taiwan.

U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation goes beyond the PRC, however, as we work to deepen U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation in new areas, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  As one example, in March, AIT and TECRO established a framework for the United States and Taiwan Coast Guard to increase bilateral maritime cooperation.  Our Coast Guards then held their first meeting this August, where they discussed ways to improve joint maritime responses to search and rescue, disaster relief, and environmental missions, as well as opportunities to improve communication and continue personnel educational exchanges.

As I look at the opportunities ahead of us across the political, economic, and security domains, I am reminded that the world and the Indo-Pacific region are more interconnected than ever.  In order to advance global and regional goals of the Biden administration, including recovering from the devastating effects of the pandemic, addressing the threat of climate change, countering malign PRC influence, and advancing a positive vision for the Indo-Pacific, we will need bold leadership, democratic allies, and robust international cooperation.

As part of that effort, Taiwan serves as an important partner and a force for good in the world.  We will continue to deepen key elements of the relationship: expanding Taiwan’s international space, people-to-people ties, economic collaboration, and security cooperation.  The importance of these efforts, however, extends beyond the Taiwan Strait.  Cooperation between Washington and Taipei can help tackle broader cross-cutting, transnational issues to help build a more capable and resilient regional order.

Looking to today’s conference, “International Relations on Reset: Great Powers Rivalry and the World Order in the Post Pandemic Area,” I am excited for the dialogue today to serve as a model for the creative thinking, cooperative spirit, and global perspective that will be required for the international community to seize the opportunities in front of us.

I look forward to starting that dialogue as we shift to questions.  Thank you.