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Remarks by AIT Director W. Brent Christensen at the Opening of “U.S.-Taiwan Relations Since 1979” Exhibition
March 11, 2020

AIT Director W. Brent Christensen
AIT Director W. Brent Christensen

Remarks by AIT Director W. Brent Christensen
at the Opening of “U.S.-Taiwan Relations Since 1979” Exhibition

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

  (As Prepared for Delivery)

Good afternoon!  It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to speak with you all.  It’s especially nice to look out at the audience and not see an ocean of business suits!

I was about your age when I came to Taiwan for the first time as a missionary.  I lived in the Kaohsiung suburb of Tsoying and spent all of my time out in the community talking to people.  Unbeknownst to the many shopkeepers, government workers and students I came in contact with, they were my most important teachers.  They taught me some Taiwanese slang.  They taught me about Taiwan’s history.  They taught me about the many cultures, imported and indigenous, that blend together to make Taiwan such a special place.  In short, they gave me the most practical training I needed to do this job. Beyond that, they sparked within me a love for and fascination with Taiwan that would go on to define my career.

This is actually my third time serving in Taiwan as a diplomat.  I have also led the State Department’s Taiwan Desk and served three times in Beijing and once in Hong Kong, with the cross-Strait dynamic often foremost in my mind.  So, if you walk away with no other lesson today, I hope you will believe me when I say that the experiences you have early in your life can truly define your life’s work.

Repeatedly returning to Taiwan over the course of 40 years has also afforded me a unique vantage point from which to view Taiwan’s development and the development of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.

Looking back from today’s viewpoint, it is easy to forget how miraculous the current state of affairs would appear to both U.S. and Taiwan policy makers in 1979.  The strong U.S.-Taiwan friendship of today and Taiwan’s development into an economic powerhouse and a vibrant democracy were far from inevitable.  In fact, I think it is fair to say they have exceeded all expectations.  Taiwan has demonstrated to the world that democracy knows no race, religion, or ethnicity and is compatible with both Eastern and Western cultural traditions.

I hope that over the next few weeks you will visit the new exhibit on “U.S.-Taiwan Relations since 1979” that we are opening on your campus to see the incredible breadth and depth of the U.S.-Taiwan partnership.  You will see that we work together on everything from science and technology to arts and culture, education to the environment.  You will notice that generations of Taiwan’s most prominent political leaders, most successful businesspeople, and most influential cultural icons have spent time in the United States; and that the U.S.-Taiwan partnership has enjoyed the support of seven U.S. presidents and both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

I think as you walk through the exhibit, you will see that our journey together over the past 40 years not only exemplifies mutual benefit, but also convergence.  We have converged on a commitment to democratic governance; we have converged on an economic model that views human capital as the most valuable of all inputs; and we have converged on an international posture of striving to be a force for good in the world.  To me, this convergence demonstrates that sometimes we are not defined by the family we are born into, but instead by the family we choose to belong to.

Both the United States and Taiwan have chosen to be members of the same family of democracies.  We are bonded by our common character (相同本質) comprised of our shared values.

These values include: political values (政治價值觀), such as rule of law and equal protection under the law; respect for human rights; democratic and transparent governance; freedom of press, expression, and religion; and appreciation of diversity.

Our shared values also include economic values (經濟價值觀), such as free markets; private sector-driven growth; innovation and entrepreneurship; respect for intellectual property rights; and international rules and agreements that create a level playing field.

And finally, these values include international values (國際價值觀), like contributing to global problem-solving; providing international assistance and humanitarian aid; helping to “lift up” countries around the world as they strive towards greater prosperity and more democratic systems of governance; and exporting solutions, rather than problems.

We often talk about the U.S.-Taiwan partnership in very simple terms: Real Friends, Real Progress (真朋友,真進展).  What does that mean?  It means that the United States is a committed partner and a true friend to Taiwan; that our words match our deeds; that with us, what you see is what you get; and that the United States and Taiwan are sincerely invested in each other’s success.

And what exactly does “real friends, real progress” mean in practical terms?  It means that every year AIT is working with the Taiwan authorities on activities that ensure that countries throughout the Indo-Pacific and around the world understand that Taiwan is a leader in fields like infectious disease prevention, disaster relief, women’s economic empowerment, and combatting drug trafficking; these activities reaffirm the critical need to expand Taiwan participation in the international community and its role in global problem solving.  The latest issue of the Journal of American Medical Association highlighted just one example of this in describing Taiwan’s impressive handling of the coronavirus outbreak as a model of rapid and efficient response to the crisis.

“Real friends, real progress” also means that the United States and Taiwan work tirelessly to expand our already impressive economic and commercial ties.  It means we help each other create jobs and grow our economies.  It means people in Taiwan are enjoying a more consistent supply of U.S. apples and Americans are now discovering Taiwan’s guavas.

“Real friends, real progress” also means overcoming common challenges, or as we say “we strive together and thrive together” (共同努力,共同得益).  What are these common challenges?  We are working together to face environmental challenges, like keeping our oceans healthy by managing marine debris.  We are enhancing our security cooperation to confront both conventional and non-traditional security challenges, including cyber threats.  And we are cooperating on disarming disinformation, sometimes called “fake news.”

Tackling disinformation is a challenge shared by all members of the family of democracies.  Strong societies benefit from real news; flawed governments traffic in fake news.  The United States and Taiwan have great stories to tell, in terms of our economies and our democracies.  We benefit when people understand the truth.  Disinformation is a means of deflecting attention away from the consequences of bad governance and obscuring the successes of good governance.

Disinformation seeks to deepen existing divides within societies, interfere in elections, and in our case, undermine public confidence in the U.S.-Taiwan friendship.  As democratic societies, we are looking for approaches that address this challenge while protecting freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

AIT has worked with our Taiwan partners to share information and expertise, to fund academic research to better understand this challenge, and to empower civil society to come up with innovative solutions.

“Real friends, real progress” also means helping Taiwan to confront the challenge of brain drain and to internationalize its workforce for the digital age.  Last year, AIT worked with our Taiwan partners to launch the Talent Circulation Alliance, or TCA.  The TCA was born from the idea that the 21st century solution to brain drain is not talent retention; it’s talent circulation.  In an increasingly globalized world where careers look less like ladders and more like jungle gyms, economies thrive when they encourage their best and brightest to gain experience abroad.  The TCA currently features more than 20 programs aimed at facilitating talent exchange, talent cultivation, and talent networking opportunities between Taiwan, the United States, and other like-minded countries.

I would urge you, when you are considering where to spend your precious time during the formative years of your education and career, to pick a place where your voice will be heard; where you can explore your intellectual curiosity without fear of reprisal; where your freedom will be protected; where your internet will work; where your intellectual property will be respected; where you can forge relationships with companies that do not operate at the whims of their government; where you will not be pressured to spy on others or steal trade secrets.  Pick a place, like Taiwan, that has flourished by relying on ingenuity, creativity, and the spirit of entrepreneurship.

While I will acknowledge that there many places that fit the description above, I cannot pretend to be impartial.  I wholeheartedly recommend that you choose the United States.  In an everchanging geo-political landscape, some things remain constant: the United States attracts more students, scholars, and high-skilled workers than any country in the world.  The United States continues to be the destination of choice for scholars and experts in all disciplines to sharpen their skills before returning home to become leaders and drivers of growth and progress.  The United States continues to be the leader in cutting-edge research that will make our lives safer, more convenient, and healthier in the coming decades.  During the 2018-2019 academic year, the number of international students in the United States reached an all-time high of more than one million students with an increasing number of students taking advantage of Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities.  During the same time period, the number of students from Taiwan studying in the United States also increased for the third year in a row.  As you consider your future professional and academic plans, please think of the United States.

Before I close today, I want to make one final appeal to you all: take pride in Taiwan.  I know it sounds like a strange message coming from a foreigner, but sometimes we need outsiders to serve as our mirrors so we can better see ourselves.  I encourage you all to feel proud to represent a society whose democratic transformation is an inspiration the world over and whose economic development is a model that others aspire to replicate.  Take solace in the fact that all democracies face roadblocks and gridlock; all economies speed up and slow down; progress is sometimes hard-won over generations.  Remember that democracies are works in progress.  They are imperfect because the people they represent are imperfect.  And when you’re not satisfied with the direction of your society or government policies, the answer is not apathy; it’s more engagement.  It’s your voice.  It’s your vote.

Finally, please make sure to visit the exhibit on “U.S.-Taiwan Relations since 1979 and learn more about the extraordinary story of U.S.-Taiwan partnership.  I hope you will all consider becoming a part of that story.

Thank you.