The U.S. Congress in December passed legislation creating the long-awaited Taiwan Fellowship Program to deepen the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan. Since the idea was first proposed more than a decade ago, AmCham Taiwan has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Program, which will enable the United States each year to send 10 federal government employees to come to Taiwan on a two-year fellowship that will include a year of service within a Taiwan government agency or NGO related to their area of expertise.
The initiative is modeled on the Mansfield Fellowship Program, run by the foundation set up in honor of former U.S. ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield. Since its start in 1994, the Mansfield program has helped train several hundred American specialists in Japanese affairs, building a network of personal contacts between them and Japanese counterparts. It has been highly successful in helping bridge cultural gaps and enhance understanding between governmental agencies in the U.S. and Japan, facilitating cooperation in a host of fields that require bilateral collaboration.
By the same token, the opportunity created by the Taiwan Fellowship Act for U.S. civil servants to study Mandarin and gain experience serving in Taiwan offices will give the participants a range of knowledge about Taiwan and the connections with Taiwanese counterparts that will ease future working relations between the two sides.
AmCham Taiwan has long been an active advocate for the passage and funding of the TFA. In their last several annual White Papers, we have urged the U.S. Congress, the Biden Administration, and the Tsai administration to support this important initiative. We have also written numerous letters to relevant parties, highlighting the benefits of the TFA and the need for its implementation.
Given the favorable step toward enhanced cooperation represented by the TFA, AmCham has a few suggestions to offer. First, we call on the Taiwan authorities to embrace the initative by identifying suitable host agencies and working with the U.S. implementers of the program to establish the language training and other support mechanisms. Next, we urge the U.S. side to help with administrative support such that the program can field students as early as this year. Congress should ensure that this worthwhile program does not become an “unfunded mandate,” but rather is supported sufficiently.
But even full public finance may not prove sufficient to the needs and there is ample space for the private sector – including our AmCham members – to offer financial support to get the TFA up and running. Such learning and bonding would represent enlightened self-interest, as private sector actors will be among the primary beneficiaries of better harmonized regulation and public administration.
Finally, AmCham urges the Taiwan government to consider creating a program complementing the Taiwan Fellowship Act by sending an annual contingent of Taiwanese civil servants to gain experience in American government agencies of various kinds. Such a companion program funded by the Taiwanese side would be the natural next step in further deepening the relationship and level of understanding between the two sides.