BY DAVID CHIH AND KATELYN SHELBY
U.S. Lawmakers Introduce Taiwan Bills
On October 19, four American congressmen – two Senators and two members of the House of Representatives – formally introduced legislation to address the issue of double taxation between the United States and Taiwan. The bill builds on the U.S.-Taiwan Expedited Double Tax Relief Act, which was passed by the Senate Finance Committee in September.
Two days later, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Taiwan Relations Reinforcements Act. If passed, the Act would establish an inter-agency Taiwan policy taskforce, elevate the status of the U.S. representative to Taiwan (the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan) to a Senate-confirmed position, create a U.S.-Taiwan Cultural Exchange Foundation, promote Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, and devise strategies to protect American businesses and non-government entities from Chinese government coercion.
Notably, the bill also calls for increased U.S. military cooperation with Taiwan in line with the Taiwan Relations Act and the “Six Assurances.” In a statement, the two senators said that the bill aims to curb the threat from China while advancing shared values, fostering employment opportunities, and expanding economic collaboration between the United States and Taiwan.
In response to the introduction of both bills, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed gratitude for the support of the U.S. Congress and reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening Taiwan-U.S. relations.
U.S. Governors Push Closer Taiwan Ties
During a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy announced that his state will open an economic and trade office in Taiwan, its first in the Asia-Pacific. Murphy said the office will further cultural and economic ties and incentivize collaborations in the pharmaceutical, life sciences, technology, telecommunications, and green economy sectors.
New Jersey-Taiwan bilateral trade was worth around US$4 billion in 2022, double the amount in 2019. Taiwan is New Jersey’s 15th-largest import partner and 19th-largest export partner, according to the MOEA.
A delegation from the state of Montana, led by Governor Greg Gianforte, arrived in Taiwan on October 29 for a six-day trip to promote education and trade cooperation. Gianforte was the ninth U.S. governor to visit Taiwan since August 2022, when border restrictions were relaxed.
During their trip, the delegation witnessed the signing of an agreement on education cooperation between Taiwan and Montana and attended a partnership launching ceremony between the Importers and Exporters Association of Taipei and the Montana Department of Commerce.
Mandarin Immersion Program Launched
National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU) announced that it will be offering a Mandarin immersion program at its Kaohsiung campus in collaboration with Vermont-based Middlebury College. The program is set to enroll U.S. college students in the spring semester of 2024. Students at the Middlebury School in Taiwan will immerse themselves in a wide range of subjects, including culture, politics, media, translation, geography, history, religion, environment, economics, and literature, all of which will be taught entirely in Chinese.
This initiative was established following a visit by Middlebury College’s Dean of International Programs, Carlos Velez-Blasini, to NSYSU earlier this year. Students participating in the program will be required to commit to a “language pledge” to speaking Mandarin throughout their stay in Kaohsiung. Enrollment is open to U.S. students who have studied Mandarin in college for a minimum of two years, said NSYSU President Cheng Ying-yao.
China Extends Taiwan Trade Probe
China’s Ministry of Commerce on October 9 announced that it is extending its investigation into what it calls Taiwan’s trade barriers against Chinese goods for another three months. The investigation, announced in April and initially set to conclude in October, is now scheduled to continue until January 12.
The extended date coincides with the eve of Taiwan’s January 13 presidential election. While Beijing has cited case complexity as the reasoning behind the extension, geopolitical analysts have raised concerns that the extension amounts to interference in Taiwan’s elections. Responding to the announcement, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council called on Beijing to refrain from politicizing trade ties and encouraged the resolution of issues through established WTO mechanisms. Taiwan applies import restrictions on more than 2,400 types of products from China.
Volcanic-Energy Power Plant Opens
Taiwan’s first volcanic geothermal power plant began operations in October, harnessing the power of the Datun Volcanic Group north of Taipei. The Sihuangziping Pilot Geothermal Power Plant, located in New Taipei City’s Jinshan District can produce 6.4 million kWh of electricity per year, enough to power 1,500 four-person households.
New Taipei Deputy Mayor Liu Ho-jan said the plant is a milestone in Taiwan’s renewable energy efforts, adding that geothermal energy represents a stable and good baseload power source with the capacity to remain in constant operation. A second plant in the same area is scheduled to begin construction by the end of the year, eventually adding another 27 million kWh of clean energy annually to the grid.
Public Sector Workers Seek Representation
Firefighter and police groups have called for the establishment of a national union to better protect their members after a September fire and subsequent explosion at a factory in Pingtung County claimed the lives of four firefighters. The National Association for Firefighters’ Rights called on the government to extend protections afforded under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to include emergency services. The association additionally called for the inclusion of rights groups in decision-making processes.
Firefighters were also present at a protest coordinated by healthcare workers’ rights groups at the Legislative Yuan on October 22. Protesters called on the government to reduce working hours, provide a safer working environment, respect professionalism, properly fund the National Health Insurance scheme, and provide more opportunities for promotion.
Taiwan Nursing and Medical Industries Union Secretary-General Lo Yun-sheng said that of the 320,000 registered nurses in the country, only 180,000 are currently practicing. Lo cited overwork and low pay as the main causes for the industry’s high turnover rate of 10%, noting that wages can be as low as NT$30,000 per month at some hospitals. The Ministry of Health and Welfare met with 21 medical-related associations on October 21 to exchange ideas about improving conditions for medical care staff.
In response to calls for unionization, the Executive Yuan on October 26 approved draft amendments to the Civil Servant Association Act to allow certain civil servants, including firefighters and police, to establish special-interest associations that would be able to suggest, consult, and participate in discussion on some aspects of their work. The amendments stop short of permitting formal unions. Rights groups say the proposed headcount thresholds for civil servants required to form special-interest associations are unreasonably high.
Taiwan Hosts East Asia’s Largest Pride March
Over 176,000 participants paraded through Taipei in celebration of equality and diversity during the 2023 Taiwan LGBT+ Pride march on October 28. Organized by the Taiwan Rainbow Civil Association, the event aimed to embrace diverse gender identities.
Among the groups in attendance were the American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan and a delegation headed by Director of the American Institute in Taiwan Sandra Oudkirk. The contingent from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was led by Vice President Lai Ching-te, the only presidential candidate to attend the march. While the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih did not attend the event, the KMT’s youth wing did. Members of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) also participated to demonstrate their support, stating that the party’s presidential candidate Ko Wen-je was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Alongside the march, activities included a Rainbow Market with 120 booths and a “Color Diversity” station promoting gender equality issues.
Launch of First Weather Satellite
Taiwan’s first weather satellite was launched from a site in French Guiana in South America on October 9. The 250kg Triton satellite will track weather patterns over the central Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans and provide input for prediction models for typhoons and other storms. The Taiwan Space Agency said 82% of the satellite’s parts were developed and manufactured in Taiwan.
The involvement of 20 R&D units in the manufacturing of Triton represented a significant milestone for Taiwan’s space industry. The government plans to invest NT$25.1 billion in this sector over the next decade, working with academia and industry to launch additional Taiwan-made satellites into low orbit.