A Plan for Deepening U.S.-Taiwan Ties

Support is building for fellowship program for young and mid-career U.S. officials

In 1994, the U.S. Congress established the Mike Mansfield Fellowship Program, named for the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Ambassador to Japan, with the aim of developing a “corps of U.S. federal government employees with proficiency in the Japanese language and practical, first-hand knowledge about Japan and its government.” The program has been highly successful in building better understanding and closer relations between the U.S. and Japan. In its quarter century of existence, it has “graduated” several hundred American specialists in Japanese affairs who have built a network of personal contacts with Japanese counterparts.

Now Congress, working from a plan developed by the Western Pacific Fellowship Project, is considering the creation of a similar program to cultivate in-depth expertise on Taiwan within the U.S. government. With broad bipartisan support, a bill known as the Taiwan Fellowship Act has been introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate version (S. 4327) is being sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Edward Markey (D-MA), while the House of Representatives bill (H.R. 7414) has been introduced by Congressmen Ami Bera (D-CA) and Ted Yoho (R-FL). 

Backers of the legislation hope that it can be passed as early as September and signed by President Trump shortly thereafter, enabling the first cohort of fellows to be welcomed in Taiwan in the summer of 2021. Under the program, applicants chosen for the program would first receive training in Taiwan in Mandarin language and the local society and culture, and then be embedded within a Taiwan government agency or private-sector organization related to their area of specialization. 

Margaret K. Lewis, a professor of Chinese and Taiwanese law at Seton Hall University who serves as a member of the Taiwan Fellowship’s advisory council, notes that “for people my age (mid-40s) and younger, it’s been increasingly common for Chinese language training to be done in China rather than Taiwan, which means that fewer Americans have spent time studying in Taiwan.” Since the long-term health of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship requires that more Americans understand Taiwan, she sees the Taiwan Fellowship Act as an important step in that direction.

Supporters of the project have encouraged American friends of Taiwan to contact their Senators and Congressmen to urge early passage of the legislation.