Domestic & International Brief – April 2024

Vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim met the president of the Czech Senate Miloš Vystrčil during a seminar held to deepen exchanges with democratic partners.


Michigan Opens Taiwan Office

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on March 4 announced the opening of the Michigan Taiwan Office, a move President Tsai Ing-wen welcomed as fostering closer bilateral exchanges. Taiwan and Michigan signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on economic and trade cooperation last year.  

The new office will focus on securing investment in key industries such as automotive, semiconductor, renewable energy, and advanced manufacturing to create high-paying jobs and bring critical supply chains back to Michigan via the “Make It in Michigan” economic development strategy. 

Governor Whitmer also celebrated the announcement of three investment projects by Taiwanese companies in Michigan. Tung Thih Electronics, an automotive radar systems manufacturer, will expand its R&D and manufacturing operations at a new location in Northville. TYC Americas, an automotive lighting maker, will expand its R&D presence in Wixom. In addition, automotive fastener manufacturer Sumeeko will expand its manufacturing operations in Fraser. 

United States Budgets for Taiwan Assistance

The United States’ 2025 budget proposal released by the White House on March 12 included a US$100 million (NT$3.2 billion) item to assist Taiwan in strengthening deterrence and maintaining peace and stability across the Strait. Investments would include expanding anti-ship capabilities to help neutralize enemy strategies that would deny U.S. forces and ships access to the Pacific. The upgrade includes development of the ship-destroying Standard Missile-6 built by Lockheed Martin and a Maritime Strike Tomahawk from RTX to fire from U.S. submarines. 

The initiative follows U.S. President Joe Biden’s approval of a US$80 million (NT$2.6 billion) grant through the Foreign Military Financing mechanism in November 2023 to bolster Taiwan’s military capabilities. 

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2025 fiscal budget proposal includes a US$500 million (NT$15.9 billion) request to replenish U.S. weapons stocks in Taiwan through the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which takes weapons from existing Pentagon stocks and ships them overseas.  

U.S. Forces Confirmed on Outlying Islands

Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng in March confirmed that U.S. Army Special Forces training personnel are stationed on Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Penghu, just 3.7 nautical miles from China’s shores. Chiu said their presence was part of an “exchange” with the United States to help identify any weaknesses or blind spots in Taiwan’s defenses and recognize the strengths of American forces. Training included operating and creating manuals for the Black Hornet Nano, a compact military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). 

Conflicting reports stirred confusion when Chiu stated that the forces’ presence was “fixed,” as some news outlets misinterpreted “fixed” as “permanent.” However, U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John Aquilino clarified that the special forces were not permanently stationed.   

Hsiao Bi-Khim Visits EU and U.S.   

Vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim visited Czechia in March to speak at a seminar organized by Prague-based think tank Sinopsis. Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jeff Liu said Hsiao had been invited to meet and exchange views with “friends” before her inauguration. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian called for the Czech government to “severely restrain [Czech] politicians” and eliminate the influence of the incident.  

Earlier in March, Hsiao was sanctioned by China for visiting the United States on a “private visit.” The sanction prohibits Hsiao and her family members from entering China, Hong Kong, or Macau. Additionally, it bans investors and firms associated with Hsiao from cooperating with Chinese organizations and individuals. 

Congress Introduces Taiwan-NASA Bill

A bipartisan group of American lawmakers introduced the Taiwan and America Space Assistance (TASA) Act of 2024 on March 13. The bicameral bill would authorize NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to cooperate with Taiwan on civilian space activities, including satellites, space exploration, and atmospheric and weather programs. The TASA Act is being sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Eric Schmitt (R-MO) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). 

Taiwan, UK Partner on Aging Population

An MOU was signed between National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU) and the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) to address issues brought on by societal aging. NICA Deputy Director Lynne Corner said Taiwan’s focus on health and technological advantages is conducive to making it a global model for managing an aging society. The partnership also encourages researchers and industries in Taiwan to increase their focus on innovative research and development longevity. 

By 2025, Taiwan will be considered a super-aged society – where the population aged 65 and above exceeds 20% – prompting the government to boost the elder-care service supply chain. At the MOU signing ceremony, NYCU President Lin Chi-hung stressed a super-aged society’s economic, social, public health, and national security impacts. Senior Advisor to the President Shen Jong-chin expressed hope that NYCU will leverage Taiwan’s digital technology advances to promote research outcomes globally. 

Parliamentary Groups to Promote Friendship

The Legislative Yuan has reorganized a parliamentary friendship group for Czechia, established during the previous legislature, to include Austria as well. Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Wan Mei-ling was chosen as the chairperson. The vice chairs are Chang Chia-chun of the KMT, Hsu Chih-chieh from the Democratic Progressive Party, and Chang Chi-kai from the Taiwan People’s Party. 

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tien Chung-kwang thanked the legislators for promoting this friendship and strengthening parliamentary diplomacy. He said such friendship groups help the ministry boost practical collaboration and interaction.  

Similar Taiwanese parliamentary groups have been formed to work on WTO diplomacy, as well as relations with such European countries as Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.  

Former Taiwan President Leaves for China 

Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou left for an 11-day trip to China early April. Ma was accompanied by a student delegation, who he said would help deliver a message of friendship and peace.    

The trip included visits to Beijing, Guangdong, and Shaanxi. While in Guangdong, the delegation visited BYD, a Chinese electric vehicle company, and Tencent, the world’s largest video game company and operator of China’s WeChat messaging platform. In addition, Ma’s office stated that the delegation visited historical sites of Chinese historical or cultural significance and lead student exchanges at Beijing’s elite Peking University and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. 

Severe Food Poisoning at Taipei Restaurant

At least 28 customers fell victim to poisoning, of which two died and six were in critical condition, after dining at Malaysian vegetarian restaurant chain Polam Kopitiam’s Xinyi branch in Taipei between March 19 and March 24. The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) reported that most of the victims had consumed the restaurant’s rice noodle dishes, particularly the “char kway teow,” which contains egg and curry rendang, along with iced milk tea.  

Investigations indicate that Bongkrekic acid toxin, a rare toxin produced in fermented coconut or corn contaminated by the Burkholderia gladioli bacteria, was present in the patients, with at least eight severe cases testing positive for the substance. There is no treatment for Bongkrekic acid poisoning. Consuming food contaminated with as little as one milligram of the acid can be fatal to humans. It is the first time bongkrekic acid has been detected in Taiwan. 

Authorities have taken legal action against the restaurant’s legal representative, branch manager, and chef, suspecting their involvement in the outbreak. Investigations were ongoing as of early April, with definitive conclusions regarding the cause pending. 

Scandals Prompt Food Safety Fund

During a cabinet meeting in March, Premier Chen Chien-jen instructed Executive Yuan Secretary-General Li Men-yen to convene representatives from government bodies to discuss establishing a fund for increasing the efficacy of food safety management. The fund would help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) handle food safety inspections.  

The decision was sparked by a scandal involving Sudan dyes – a class of carcinogenic dye outlawed in Taiwan – found in imported pepper and curry powder mixes. The Yunlin Public Health Bureau on January 30 found that a brand of red chili powder contained contaminated raw ingredients imported from China. Other companies were also exposed for buying the tainted product. 

The Executive Yuan’s Food Safety Office proposed imposing a permanent ban on overseas manufacturers or exporters selling products to Taiwanese companies that were found to contain Sudan dyes, adding that substandard products should be destroyed. 

TFDA Censured for Honey Standards

Control Yuan members Tien Chiu-chin and Tsai Chung-yi have faulted the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) for lacking the technical ability to test the honey content of products.  

In May 2022, the MOHW announced a labeling standard stating that only products with honey as the sole ingredient can be labeled as such. Additionally, products must contain at least 60% honey content to be labeled as “sugar-added honey.”  

The regulations took effect in 2023. Tien and Tsai criticized the TFDA for allowing honey mixed with syrup up to 40% to be called “sugar-added honey,” adding that the regulation does not align with international standards.