It seems like yesterday that AmCham celebrated its 60th anniversary in the gorgeous historical-landmark building that is the Taipei Guest House, with its magically lighted garden, swans floating in the ponds, and well-groomed bonsai. The VIP guests were toasting and mingling in a convivial mood when one of the biggest storms of the season caused everyone to huddle under an outdoor tent. The rain was so loud that guests strained to hear the keynote speakers: then-President Ma Ying-jeou and visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Suresh Kumar. Still, AmCham members in the audience were proud to hear President Ma’s praise for the Chamber’s longstanding contributions to U.S.-Taiwan bilateral relations and Taiwan’s economic development.
Former AmCham Chairpersons were invited to attend, and eight of them who were living abroad returned for the celebration. Their presence was a testament to how much the Chamber has meant to so many representatives of American companies in Taiwan over the decades.
My own active involvement stretched over 17 years, from my election as Governor and service as co-chair of the Transportation Committee starting in 2000, to the completion of my tour as the Chamber’s President at the end of 2017.
During that period, Taiwan faced major challenges due to the rise of China. Taiwan businesses had set up factories and distribution channels across the Strait, and international companies moved operations to China, in the process often downgrading their Taiwan branches in the corporate reporting structures. Taiwan’s brain drain and economic hollowing out in the early years of the century even dented the Chamber’s membership base.
But AmCham persisted as a relentless supporter of the business community and of Taiwan’s advantages as an investment location. A major endeavor of the Chamber is the annual Doorknock trip to Washington, D.C.; delegation members pay their own way and take personal time off, an indication of their dedication to the cause of ever-stronger U.S.-Taiwan relations.
In the more than 10 trips that I planned and led, we went on emotional rollercoaster rides depending on the state of the bilateral relationship in a given year. Among the topics we strongly advocated over the years were direct flights between Taiwan and China, Taiwan’s membership or observer status in key international organizations, resolution of the impasse over Taiwan’s restrictions on certain beef and pork imports from the U.S., Taiwan’s participation in a potential second round of TPP, and of course prospects for bilateral trade and tax agreements.
The list was long, and the reception in executive branch and legislative offices was not always very positive as China was emerging as the United States’ top trading partner. We stressed that since Taiwan consistently ranked between 9th and 11th place among America’s largest trading partners, the level of importance of the bilateral relationship should be assessed on its own merits, not as a by-product of U.S.-China relations.
Fortunately, Taiwan has gained more support in Washington in recent years by demonstrating her commitment to the bilateral relationship and ability to contribute internationally in many respects.
To help raise awareness in region of Taiwan’s achievements, AmCham Taipei bid for the hosting rights of the 2013 spring conference of the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC). Since renamed AmChams of Asia Pacific, the organization represents 29 chambers with more than 20,000 member companies in 22 countries. Under the theme “A 2020 Vision for U.S. Asia Partnership,” the conference covered such areas as the environment, infrastructure, and technology supply chains. Attendees were impressed with the caliber of speakers from among Taiwan’s government and business leaders, including President Ma Ying-jeou and TSMC Founder Morris Chang.
Also memorable were the series of events since 2011 in which Taiwan’s presidential candidates shared their visions and policy directions with AmCham members. We were honored and grateful for their presence, which demonstrated cross-party recognition of the Chamber’s contribution as a valued partner for Taiwan.
I feel blessed for having been given the opportunity to work alongside so many like-minded and devoted members and friends for the values and causes we cherish. March On, AmCham Taiwan!