Taiwan Life in Brief – August 2021

Career diplomat and new Director of AIT Sandra Oudkirk arrived in Taiwan on July 12. Oudkirk replaced outgoing Director Brent Christensen, who made important contributions to U.S.-Taiwan relations during his three-year tenure at AIT. Photo: Martti Chen

Plum Rains Help Ease Drought

This spring Taiwan experienced its worst drought in 56 years. Rainfall on the island has been steadily decreasing due to climate change. Leaky pipes, low water prices, and lax water-use habits also contributed to May’s shortage. The annual plum rains arrived in late April following a year without significant rainfall and no typhoons. 

At the peak of the drought, many reservoirs were less than 20% full. Some fell below 10%, including the Baoshan No. 2 Reservoir in Hsinchu County, a major water source for Taiwan’s semiconductor industry.  

The water shortage highlighted water management and infrastructure issues on the island. In response, the government has constructed a desalination plant in Hsinchu County, dug emergency wells, and turned to alternative water sources to ensure uninterrupted industrial production.  

Improvements to water pipes have decreased the leakage rate from 20% to 14% in the last decade. In addition, the government plans to build more desalination plants, construct new pipelines to carry water to western Taiwan from the heavy rainfall areas in the East, and increase water prices for large producers. Water prices for households are expected to remain the same.   

Taiwan Ends Level 3, Vaccinations Increase 

Taiwan’s nationwide COVID-19 restrictions were eased from Level 3 to Level 2 on July 27 as the number of daily local transmissions fell to double digits. All cities and counties except for Taipei and New Taipei City are now considered to have a low-to-medium risk of infection. The new Level 2 restrictions will remain in place until at least August 9. 

Under Level 2, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has increased the maximum number of people allowed for indoor gatherings from four to 50, and from nine to 100 for outdoor gatherings. Additionally, tour groups of up to 50 people are now allowed. Businesses and public spaces are still required to record visitors’ contact information and enforce social distancing of 1.5 meters indoors and 1 meter outdoors. 

Efforts to vaccinate the population have ramped up as Taiwan receives more vaccine doses, including shipments from the U.S., Japan, and Lithuania. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have also pledged to donate 10,000 and 30,000 doses, respectively. In addition, TSMC, Foxconn, and the Buddhist humanitarian organization Tzu Chi Foundation have purchased a combined total of 15 million BioNTech doses through the company’s China distributor. 

In May, it was announced that a previous order of 5 million vaccines from BioNTech had fallen through, allegedly due to interference from Beijing. China had been offering to ship Taiwan doses of its own vaccine, which Taiwan rejected due to safety and political concerns. 

The CECC recently opened an online vaccine registration page, 1922.gov.tw, and registration is now open to all residents aged 18 and over. As of July 28, over 7.2 million people, or 30.9% of Taiwan’s population, had received their first dose of a vaccine. Only around 315,000 people, or 1.3% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.  

New AIT Director Arrives in Taiwan

On July 6, the American Institute in Taiwan announced that career diplomat Sandra Oudkirk would become AIT’s new Director, replacing Brent Christensen, who departed Taiwan in late May. Oudkirk served in the U.S. foreign service for over three decades, including such posts as U.S. Senior Official for APEC and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. Her previous experience also includes a consular assignment at AIT. 

In a press statement, AIT said that Oudkirk “looks forward to building on the successes of her predecessors and to further advancing the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.” It added that she “brings with her a wealth of experience from her 30-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, a deep understanding of the East Asian and Pacific region, and a commitment to and passion for diplomacy.” 

During his three years as AIT Director, Christensen oversaw many significant accomplishments, including the launch of the Indo-Pacific Democratic Governance Consultation in 2019, expansion of the Global Cooperation and Training Framework, and AIT’s relocation to a new complex in Taipei’s Neihu District in 2019. 

Christensen also made important contributions to further cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, particularly in the health and economic fields. In recognition of those achievements, he was awarded the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon by President Tsai in late June. 

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