A Farewell Conversation with AIT Director Kin Moy

Kin W. Moy this summer completed his three-year tour of duty as Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), where he was the first person of Chinese descent to hold the position. A former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Moy is a career foreign service officer.

At a farewell luncheon hosted by AmCham in June, Chamber Chairman Albert Chang lauded Moy for his warmth, humor, and dedication. Before his departure, Moy sat down for an interview with Taiwan Business TOPICS Editor-in-Chief Don Shapiro.   

How has the U.S.-Taiwan relationship evolved over the years since AIT was first established?

For me, the most obvious evolution is the notion that working with Taiwan isn’t just about the cross-Strait relationship or how it fits in with our relationship with China. We are now cooperating in many areas where there are win-wins for the United States and Taiwan, and it doesn’t come at the expense of any other country or partner around the world.

The visa waiver program is an obvious example, as it helps the U.S. economy and helps facilitate travel from Taiwan. Hundreds of thousands or even millions of Taiwanese will be able to travel to America without having to go through a visa process.

Probably most Americans don’t know that much about foreign countries, but those who do know about Taiwan almost universally have a favorable impression of it. The strength of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is definitely in the interest of the American people, and from my experience talking with so many people in Taiwan, they also believe that a strong U.S. partner benefits Taiwan.

I could point to other specific areas such as the Global Cooperation Training Framework [GCTF] and things like Global Entry. These are programs that help people here, Americans, and in some cases other countries as well. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with cross-Strait relations. At one time, people tended to just look through the prism of how relations with Taiwan might affect our relationship with other countries, but as developments have shown, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Kin Moy and members of his family after he received the Order of the Brilliant star from President Tsai. Photo: Courtesy of Presidential Office

Looking back on the past three years, what do you consider to be the highlights of your tenure?

The dedication ceremony for the new building was certainly a pinnacle for me. Pulling the project across the finish line satisfied one of the goals I came with. It reassured the people of Taiwan about the strength of the relationship. That was a high point, certainly.

But from my personal perspective, getting out to as many places as we got to in Taiwan was also very special. Meeting young people interested in everything from education in the U.S. to doing business there, as well as hearing about the experiences of older people who lived through the development of Taiwan’s economy was quite exciting. It met my second priority, which was to use every sort of communications means possible, especially social media, to deliver the message of continuing American support and shared values.

When I first came here, one of the questions that I often got was “Will improvement of relations between the U.S. and mainland China come at the expense of Taiwan?” So I wanted to find ways to show people that what AIT did – the kinds of cooperation that we were forging – were going to benefit people in both Taiwan and America. It gave us so much pride to go all over the island and meet not just officials, but also ordinary people and talking to them about what makes their lives challenging and how we might be able to help. I was happy to deliver the message that we’re going to continue to support Taiwan. Certainly it’s in the interest of the American people.

Participants in one of the many international workshops that AIT holds in cooperation with the Taiwan government under the Global Cooperation and Training Framework.

What do you see as opportunities for U.S. business going forward?

The Tsai administration is emphasizing the “5+2 innovative industries.” It would be smart for American businesses to look at what Taiwan’s needs are and how it’s fashioning its future. Among the areas where Taiwan needs more investment is energy, especially in renewables and natural gas. American businesspeople in the energy sector ought to be thinking “how can I get in on this? How can I come help figure out win-win solutions for my company and also Taiwan?” There are definitely opportunities.

Another sector is high tech. Taiwan wants to innovate more and more, and they’ve got a lot of smart folks, but they need the confidence building that foreign investors can provide.

There’s wide recognition that artificial intelligence will be an area of strength for Taiwan. Some of our high-tech companies – including members of AmCham – have already identified that potential, but in my view a lot more can be done.

Also deserving of mention is healthcare and health issues. This is an aging society. In fact, throughout Asia you have aging communities that will need attention in terms of different products and services. Overall, Taiwan’s economy is changing – becoming so much more service-oriented than in the past. There are definitely areas that might be ripe for smart American businessmen.

Do you have any advice for the Chamber?

One of the things I found is that there has been some suspicion here that foreign companies come in, make money, and perhaps don’t give enough back to society. So I think it’s important for members of the business community to get out and talk to people – find out what students are thinking about, what business people are thinking about. When that contact is on a personal level, it will affect the way they see America and Americans.

There will always be those who say “Oh, you’re just using our labor. You’re not leaving anything behind.” But the more that companies get out there and do good things, the better. Show that you’re investing in the long-term growth of Taiwan and the overall economy.

I think of Micron as a good example because it’s cited all the time as a company that is hiring people here and investing for the long-term – not just sending over a couple of executives. When you interact with the community, and when people understand what you are about individually as well as a company, that can have very positive effects. It gives people assurance that you’re actually going to give back to this place that they call home.

Kin Moy and AIT colleagues with AmCham counterparts at the American Ball co-sponsored by AmCham and AIT.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One thing that I haven’t mentioned is just how much I appreciate the interaction I’ve had with AmCham. I tried to get at this the other day [at the farewell luncheon AmCham held] and I was just very moved by Albert Chang’s generous words, which obviously overstated any effects that I had. Our coordination has led to a lot of great cooperation. Obviously we can’t reach 100% because you have a different perspective from the U.S. government and there are some things the U.S. government can’t say, but when we do address an issue of concern in tandem, it works so much better.

When we hear from you and your companies about your concerns, it helps inform us and educate us so we can communicate with Washington. That coordination enhances our understanding and we hope it helps AmCham as well. So let me convey my own personal message of appreciation for all the cooperation that AIT gets from AmCham.

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