AmCham Taiwan at 70: A Period of Transformation

As a trained economist, asset manager, and Chartered Financial Analyst, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to witness Taiwan’s dynamic economic growth first-hand from the time of my arrival in 1983 through my departure in 2000. What I observed was not only the extraordinary strength of the NT dollar but more importantly the impressive drive and work ethic of Taiwan’s citizens.

At AmCham I had a full-time staff of eight, and twice a year took a delegation of 10-15 AmCham member executives to Washington D.C. to brief Congressmen, Senators, government officials, etc. in what became part of the annual “Doorknock.” I would “work the Hill” in Washington D.C. as an advocate for U.S. business interests with a presence in Taiwan, and in between visits it was also my responsibility to regularly share constructive business and economic observations with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and other U.S. government departments. 

The 1980s was a special time to be living and working in Taiwan. It was the era of rapid economic and technological development that led to the opening of the Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan’s answer to Silicon Valley. The lifting of martial law in 1987 added to the economic momentum, including a meteoric increase in foreign exchange reserves. The foresight of Morris Chang spawned the creation of TSMC and inspired the launching of many other tech enterprises. 

The first tourist passports were issued in 1979, and in the 80s and 90s Taiwanese citizens started traversing the globe. The number of trips abroad by Taiwanese jumped from 1 million to over 6 million and continued to rise. As souvenirs, they brought back products then unavailable domestically, but more importantly they returned with a broader understanding of the world, generating new cultural and social priorities and international awareness. 

One of my proudest achievements in the position then called Executive Director was the relaunching in 1994 of AmCham’s TOPICS magazine (now Taiwan Business TOPICS) to turn it into a professionally written and edited business publication, aimed at a readership not only of Chamber members but of others in need of solid information and analysis about Taiwan’s economy and business climate. For a while I served not only as Publisher of TOPICS, but also as Editor-in-Chief before turning the latter position over to the talented Laurie Underwood.

Before that time, TOPICS was basically a club magazine, mainly reporting on committee meetings and golf tournaments, with an abundance of space devoted to photos of members. The Board of Governors and I saw the need for more in-depth content to help keep members informed about trends in the Taiwanese economy, industry, and society that could affect their business. The magazine become more expensive to produce, but thankfully Chamber member companies and others came forward with advertising to support the effort.

I used my monthly column in TOPICS to communicate with members and friends of the Chamber about new initiatives to serve the membership, new developments in the business environment, and other relevant subjects. For example, the April 1998 column referred to the reaction to publication of the first bilingual Taiwan White Paper in September 1997. “Some suggested that the Chamber was being highly critical of Taiwan’s policies and procedures,” I wrote. “The fact remains that we are Taiwan’s strongest supporter and the recommendations offered should be viewed as a blueprint for successful competitiveness. We wish to see accelerated improvement in the business climate to help ensure future competitiveness and continued prosperity for the ROC.”

Thank you for this opportunity to look back on a significant period in my life. I shall always remember the years I spent in Taipei with great fondness for the experiences and friendships that it made possible.

Editor’s note:

Following Lynn Murray’s tenure, TOPICS continued to build on the legacy she helped create. The recent publication of a trenchant monograph, Difficult Choices: Taiwan’s Quest for Security and the Good Life, by the highly respected Richard C. Bush of The Brookings Institution, underscored TOPICS’ value. Bush referenced TOPICS articles or the Taiwan White Paper some 60 times on subjects as varied as Taiwan’s budgeting process, industrial initiatives, human capital, and relations with the U.S.