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Taiwan's Representative To The U.S. On Recent Developments


As we track relations between the U.S. and China - relations that are tense and getting tenser - stop for a moment to consider Taiwan. For Taiwan, the situation presents both unprecedented opportunities and plenty of challenges. To tick through just a few of the recent developments, last month saw a visit to Taiwan by the most senior American official since the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with the island back in 1979, so four decades ago. That visit was from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Then, last week brought another U.S. visit to Taiwan by a top State Department official. Meanwhile, here in Washington, there is growing buzz about the possibility of a U.S.-Taiwan trade deal. Well, all of this is deeply aggravating to China. And all of this is the backdrop to our next conversation with Taiwan's representative to the U.S. Bi-khim Hsiao joins us by Skype from Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington.


BI-KHIM HSIAO: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: What is the impact on you, on Taiwan, of U.S.-China relations being so tense right now?

HSIAO: Well, the reality for Taiwan is we have been living under Chinese political, economic and military coercion for decades. For Taiwan, of course, we seek to maintain stability in the region. And our security is a matter of survival for the island. And so in the midst of all this, we certainly hope to maintain steady relations with the United States and continue our security cooperation.

KELLY: Yeah. Let me stay with the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan and sharpen the question...


KELLY: Do you trust the U.S. to step in to defend Taiwan should China invade?

HSIAO: Well, the United States has a commitment to helping Taiwan in our self-defense, and that is in the Taiwan Relations Act. And we have had a robust and very consistent relationship in defense cooperation. This position has been...

KELLY: Although, as you know, the U.S. has so many things going on here right now that are sucking up so much of the nation's energy and attention and financial commitments from the coronavirus to wildfires to protests to this - what's shaping up to be a very messy presidential election ahead. Do you fear the U.S. may be too distracted, may be too hobbled to act should the need arise?

HSIAO: Well, you know, the U.S. continues to be a global power. And the stability of the region, I believe, is certainly within the interest of the United States. Peace in the Taiwan Strait, peace in the South China Sea involves the freedom of navigation. That is also a critical part of free and open global trade, so I believe these interests are intertwined. And we do have a joint responsibility in terms of ensuring the stability of this situation. And I also do believe that China has that responsibility as well. It's certainly not in China's interest to come into conflict with other countries in the region.

KELLY: So big picture - I realize it's your job to be optimistic.


KELLY: But it sounds like you really are about the future between Taiwan and the United States.

HSIAO: Well, the - Taiwan and the United States share many common values. We are rules-based market economies, and, you know, we respect basic freedoms. And that's what ties our countries together. You know, a trade agreement will certainly be part of that conversation, especially as we are discussing reorganization of global supply chains and stimulation in our economies and, you know, recovery from the pandemic. Secretary Azar's trip to Taiwan highlighted the need for health cooperation and joint efforts to fight global - the pandemic and deal with other global issues. And so I do believe there are many opportunities to improving our relationship.

KELLY: Before I let you go, I want to just note...


KELLY: ...That the relationship for you isn't just professional. It's personal. Your mom is American.


KELLY: You went to college here and grad school here in the States. Does that...


KELLY: How does that inform how you go about business here in the U.S.?

HSIAO: Well, you know, the fact that my mother is American, you know, is kind of part of my life as a bridge between Taiwan and the United States. And I've always seen my role, professionally and personally, as trying to bring the two societies and cultures closer together.

KELLY: Do you have a favorite American band or sports team that you're rooting for?

HSIAO: (Laughter) You know, as Taiwanese, we've been big baseball fans. And I don't want to be partisan in picking a certain team.

KELLY: (Laughter).

HSIAO: But we always root for the Taiwanese players. In terms of basketball, the Taiwanese American Jeremy Lin has also been quite popular in Taiwan as well. And, you know, this relationship is on all fronts, you know - cultural, educational, in sports. And there are multiple ways where we can work on deepening the friendship and understanding between us.

KELLY: Well, I will join you in hoping that those games resume, and we get back to normal on the sports front in the coming future.

Thank you very much for speaking with us.

HSIAO: Thank you very much.

KELLY: That is Bi-khim Hsiao. She is Taiwan's representative to the United States.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: Sept. 24, 2020. Clarification: A previous headline referred to Taiwan as a country. It is a self-governed territory that China claims as its own.]

(SOUNDBITE OF SMALL BLACK'S "SOPHIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 23, 2020 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous headline referred to Taiwan as a country. It is a self-governed territory that China claims as its own.