Domestic and International Brief – October 2022

A delegation from the Czech Republic, led by Senator Jiří Drahoš, met with President Tsai at the Presidential Palace in late September


Taiwan Policy Act Passed By Senate Committee

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 (TPA) by a 17-5 vote on September 14. The bill has been described as “the most comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy toward Taiwan since the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979.” Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s representative to Washington, DC, expressed gratitude to U.S. legislators for their support.

The White House has said it supports the bill, but some Biden administration officials have expressed concern over the bill’s potential effects on the United States’ One China policy. After congressional leaders met with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, some original proposals were removed from the draft, including provisions that would designate Taiwan’s status as a major non-NATO ally and rename Taiwan’s de facto U.S. embassy. However, provisions enhancing the U.S.’ military support for the island to defend itself remain intact.

The U.S. House of Representatives on September 28 introduced its own version of the TPA, proposed by House Foreign Affairs Committee member Michael McCaul and 36 other House Republicans. This legislation aims to “strengthen Taiwan’s defense and deter the aggression of the Chinese Communist Party,”according to a press release. 

While the proposed bill is likely to be incorporated into a larger piece of legislation expected to pass late this year, such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), it is still unclear when and how it will be voted upon in the full Senate.

Biden Approves Arms Sale to Taiwan

The U.S. government announced a US$1.1 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which consists of a logistics support package for Taiwan’s surveillance radar system, as well as air-to-sea and air-to-air missiles. The announcement comes amid growing U.S.-China tensions after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August.

The U.S. State Department said the deal follows its longstanding One China policy and described the sale as “essential for Taiwan’s security.” Taiwan’s government thanked the U.S. government for showing support and security commitments and condemned China for destabilizing the Taiwan Strait by manufacturing an uncalled-for crisis.

China heavily criticized the sales and promised it would take “counter-measures” to defend its national interests. Two weeks after the announcement, China sanctioned the CEOs of American defense contractors Raytheon and Boeing Defense, who China accused of participating in the arms sale, to “protect China’s sovereignty and security interests,” according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning. While the content and substantial impact of the sanctions remain unclear, experts say that sanctions of this type are often symbolic by nature.

Taiwan Deepens European Ties

Despite China’s ongoing political and economic pressure against Lithuania, the new Lithuanian representative, Paulius Lukauskas, arrived in Taipei in September, as his country’s newly established trade office opened its doors.

A delegation led by Vice Minister of Economy and Innovation Karolis Žemaitis arrived in Taipei on September 10 to meet with government officials and representatives of Taiwanese companies. The delegation also participated in a trade and economic conference between Taiwan and Lithuania that was expected to generate US$30 million in business opportunities. During the conference, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)was signed between Lithuania’s Innovation Agency and TAITRA on future cooperation.

Later that week, the Taiwan-Lithuania Business Club was launched by Taiwan’s Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (CIECA), and a Lithuania Lifestyle Festival was held September 16-29. During the festival Zemaitis said that Lithuania and Taiwan “are on a very good path with our cooperation and friendship. We are already achieving a lot.”

In addition, representatives from Taiwan and the Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) in September signed six MOUs and cooperation agreements, which the sides said would serve as a basis for bilateral cooperation on technology, education, and culture.

The documents include an MOU on semiconductor cooperation, one on education, a sister museum relationship agreement, and MOUs between several universities in Czechia and Taiwan. Taiwan Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Yui described the agreements as “a milestone” in the relationship between Taiwan and Czechia, adding that they would “take Taiwan-Czech Republic relations to new heights.”

Taiwan and U.S. sign Agricultural Deals

Taiwan agreed to a series of agricultural deals with the U.S in September, agreeing to purchase US$2.6 billion worth of corn and soybeans from Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Additionally, Taiwan agreed to the purchase worth of US$576 million worth of wheat from Idaho and Oregon. The agreements resulted from several visits from Taiwanese delegations to the respective states.

The delegations from Taiwan involved Taiwan’s Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission and Taiwan’s Flour Mill Association and were led by Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture Deputy Minister Huang Chin-cheng and Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle Director-General Daniel Chen. Among those participating on the U.S. side were Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Idaho Governor Brad Little. During their discussions, several U.S. officials commented on the importance of strengthening economic and bilateral ties with Taiwan.

Troops on Kinmen Shoot Chinese Drone

Troops on Kinmen’s Shi Island shot down a Chinese civilian-operated drone on September 1, the first such incident since Taiwan ordered a stronger response to unauthorized incursions. The Kinmen Defense Command said soldiers detected the drone flying in restricted areas and responded by “firing warning flares, reporting the incursion, expelling the drone, and ultimately shooting it down.”

In response to long-term drone threats, the Ministry of National Defense said it is developing a drone defense system set to be installed by 2023 in Kinmen and Matsu, which are both located in close proximity to China.

Borders to Reopen in October

Following the restoration on September 12 of visa-free treatment for visitors from countries that are part of Taiwan’s mutual visa-waiver program, Taiwan’s government announced a phased plan to gradually relax borders controls in a press conference on September 22. The first stage includes scrapping a saliva PCR test for arrivals and allowing them to quarantine in a residence also occupied by other people, provided they have a separate room and a bathroom, while other quarantine rules will remain in place until mid-October.

Premier Su Tseng-chang on September 29 announced that the second phase will take effect starting October 13, lifting the current requirement of three days of quarantine plus four days of “self-management.” The new rules will also raise the weekly cap on arrivals to 150,000. Tourists from countries lacking a mutual visa-waiver program with Taiwan will again be allowed to visit Taiwan.

The news was well-received by the business sector, which had been calling for Taiwan to reopen borders for months before the announcement due to concerns about the negative economic impact of strict border controls. Airlines also responded to the plan to ease border controls by resuming flight routes and increasing flights to existing routes as they expect international travel to boost exponentially. Other East Asian economies, such as Hong Kong and Japan, have also announced plans to reopen their borders to international visitors in late September and October.

A bridge in Hualien shattered by the magnitude 6.8 earthquake in Taiwan on September 18.

Earthquakes Rock Eastern Taiwan

The eastern part of Taiwan observed a series of large-scale earthquakes on the third weekend of September. A magnitude 6.4 quake hit Taiwan on September 17, followed by a 6.8 quake the next day. The latter earthquake was the main shock, according to the Central Weather Bureau.

The earthquakes killed one person and injured over 150 people; numerous buildings and bridges collapsed and train service was disrupted. Calls for the government to lower the threshold for urban renewal plans resurfaced as some fear that old buildings, which constitute nearly half of Taiwan’s residences, will not be able to withstand massive seismic activities in the future.

The earthquakes took place days before the 23rd anniversary of the “921 Earthquake” in 1999. Since 2000, September 21 has been observed as National Disaster Prevention Day to commemorate that deadly disaster which took more than 2,000 lives. A nationwide earthquake and tsunami drill was staged to prepare the public for future disasters and to test the government’s crisis-handling ability.

Taipower Proposes Large Bid to Enhance Power Grid

The state-owned Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) on September 15 revealed a 10-year power resiliency plan to enhance Taiwan’s national power grid infrastructure. The plan, which is expected to cost more than NT$564 billion, follows several large-scale blackouts in recent years.

According to Taipower, the main goal of the resiliency plan is to decentralize, modernize, and strengthen the electricity system by improving its emergency management ability and capacity to resume stable operation in a short period of time.

Taiwan’s power grid was designed to be over-centralized and oversized to satisfy the steep growth in demand for electricity. The system’s vulnerability was exposed in March by an island-wide power outage, in which a single human error caused more than five million households to be without power for several hours. Taipower Acting Chairman Tseng Wen-sheng said large-scale blackouts that “result from a single grid incident” should never happen again.