Opportunities for Taiwan-U.S. Collaboration

In recent months, the public faceoff between ride-hailing app Uber Technologies and Taiwanese regulators has at times overshadowed the many ways in which the United States and Taiwan are working together in the digital economy.

The collaboration covers a number of digital-economy initiatives first outlined in a Digital Economy Forum held in Washington, D.C. in October 2016. Some of the key subject areas includes are startups, smart cities, and global internet connectivity.

“Considering that the U.S. is a pioneer in the digital economy, it is helpful for us to exchange views on the institutional and policy-making level with them,” said Connie Chang, Director General of the Department of Overall Planning in the National Development Council (NDC), by email. “On the other hand, Taiwan’s ICT industry has prominent innovation capabilities, and we welcome U.S. entrepreneurs to cooperate with us.”

Cooperation in the start-up field aims at integrating the U.S. and Taiwan start-up ecosystems, such as by licensing U.S. technology to local startups. On March 30, officials from the U.S. Patent Office and a U.S. federal judge participated in a Technology Licensing Expert Dialogue in Taipei organized by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and co-organized by AmCham Taipei and the Taiwan-USA Industrial Cooperation Promotion Office (TUSA) of the Minister of Economic Affairs. “Most trade licensing at present occurs between large Taiwanese firms and U.S. innovators,” says Ryan Engen, an Economic Officer at AIT. “We are holding this seminar to try facilitate more technology licenses to Taiwan’s start-up community.”

The U.S. side will also hold a visa outreach event in April to explain to Taiwanese entrepreneurs the different visas available for doing market research, launching a new business, running a business, participating in an accelerator or incubator program, or working for large American companies. “We want to raise awareness about the different possibilities,” Engen says.

“Smart cities” is another area in which Taiwan and the United States have strong potential to work together, Engen observes. “Taiwan wants to be a smart-city leader and the U.S. wants to cooperate with them,” he says. For instance, the United States is encouraging Taiwanese cities to join the U.S. Department of Commerce-led Global Cities Team Challenge. That initiative serves as a platform for technology firms and local governments to develop smart-city solutions for tough municipal problems. Taipei and Taichung have already joined, and more Taiwanese cities are expected to follow.

“It’s important to coalesce around a common framework so industry will know what to build to,” Engen explains. On April 25 at the Asian Silicon Valley Development Agency headquarters in Taoyuan, AIT and NDC are co-organizing a large Smart Cities Symposium aimed expanding smart-cities cooperation.

Taiwan and the United States are also working together to boost internet connectivity through the Global Connect Initiative. This project has the goal of connecting an additional 1.5 billion more people to the internet by 2020. In particular, the two sides plan to work together to help bridge the digital divide in Pacific Island nations, Engen says.

Meanwhile, in the area of cybersecurity, Engen sees definite potential for the United States and Taiwan to work together, most likely on an industry-to-industry basis. Given Taiwan’s interest in developing the Internet of Things (IoT), an important part of that process will be ensuring the integrity of data on its IoT networks, especially in light of Taiwan’s recent experience with cyber attacks, he says. “With the IoT, everything’s connected, so everything’s hackable. Cybersecurity needs to be integrated into IoT-enabled devices and smart cities from the beginning,” he explains.

Considering the numerous areas of the digital economy in which Taiwan and the United States are working together, “it’s important that Taiwan’s legal and regulatory environment is favorable to innovation,” Engen says. “Our hope is Taiwan commits itself to being open.”

The NDC’s Chang notes that Taiwan launched a Digital Nation and Innovative Economic Development Plan (DIGI+) last November. “One of the primary objectives for this plan is to construct an innovation-friendly legal framework,” she said. “Accordingly, we will make efforts to address the challenges the new business models and innovation create.”

Taiwan boasts a solid industrial foundation, Chang observes. Yet to stay competitive in the digital economy and IoT era, Taiwan should build a comprehensive industrial ecosystem. Doing so, she emphasizes, would “accelerate industrial innovation, optimize industrial structure, and use existing advantages to develop innovative applications integrating hardware and software factors.”

The Asian Silicon Valley initiative, launched in September 2016, will be integral to boosting the nation’s digital economy, Chang says. “In this plan, there are two primary objectives: one is to promote innovation and R&D for IoT industries. The other is to create a robust startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem. That’s how we encourage large companies’ and startups’ innovation efforts.”

As outlined in the DIGI+plan, Taiwan intends to expand its digital economy to reach a value of NT$6.5 trillion (US$204.66 billion) by 2025. Other goals of the plan include increasing the penetration rate of digital lifestyle services to 80%, speeding up broadband internet connections to 2 Gbps (with 90% coverage), and “ensuring citizens’ basic rights” to have access to 25 Mbps broadband service. Taiwan also hopes to crack the world’s top 10 nations in networked readiness.

“We believe the digital economy will yield great benefits for Taiwan,” Chang concludes.