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HomeChainaTaipei’s new envoy to US may be less effective than his predecessor,...

Taipei’s new envoy to US may be less effective than his predecessor, analysts say


“We’re going back to a more traditional running lane between Tecro and Taipei,” said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council.

03:24

Taiwan’s presidential front runner Lai Ching-te picks de facto envoy to US as running mate

Taiwan’s presidential front runner Lai Ching-te picks de facto envoy to US as running mate

“It’s no revelation that Bi-khim has a deep personal connection and friendship with President Tsai. That matters, and they can talk directly and it’s the trust,” he continued. “It’s not that Alexander isn’t capable, and he’s been chosen because of that, but he’s going to operate completely within the boundaries.”

Hsiao’s direct line to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, her confident, charismatic style and extensive tenure in the US have seen doors open in the White House and Congress that Yui could struggle to match, analysts said.

Yui must also deal with a head-spinning turnaround, having only been named to head Taiwan’s Brussels office four months ago. “He’d only been in Europe for just a handful of months. So he’s a bit of a deer in the headlights,” said Hammond-Chambers. “He probably just got the sheets in the cupboard and the towels and so forth and they’re off again.”

Hsiao’s résumé was in many ways the exception, not the rule, for Taiwan’s most important overseas posting. Her two immediate predecessors, Stanley Kao and Shen Lyu-shun, both came out of the foreign ministry. And Yui’s steady hand could offer some benefits, analysts added.

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“He has worked in Latin America, and the US is, of course, very concerned about Chinese penetration in Latin America,” said Mike Fonte, Washington DPP representative. “Maybe that could be helpful.”

Fonte added that Yui also has experience navigating bureaucracies. “He’s done a number of postings that are not unimportant. It looks like he’s a solid diplomat. He’s probably more in Stanley Kao’s frame – not a wave maker, that’s for sure.”

The next several weeks leading up to Taiwan’s January 13 elections – and the four-months gap before the new president succeeds Tsai – will favour a Washington representative who is steady, avoids mistakes and does not say anything that might rattle China or Washington during a delicate period.

“There’s a lot of pieces to the job that entail keeping the bipartisan game together, but not alienating the administration in the process,” said Fonte, “and obviously maintaining the strength of the US commitment, and that gets down to some nitty gritties.”

One looming issue for Tecro’s new head is the US$105 billion security aid package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the US southern border that has stalled under the weight of Congressional politics. Hsiao was adept at working Congress and fighting Taiwan’s corner, analysts said; Yui will need to get up to speed quickly.

Hsiao Bi-khim, now the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s vice-presidential candidate, at a news conference in Taipei on November 23, 2023. Photo: AP

“Hsiao Bi-khim was extremely well-respected and well-connected in Washington,” said Kharis Templeman, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “Her shoes will be hard to fill, although I don’t think there will be much immediate drop-off with her departure.”

Another key job for Yui in coming weeks will be to translate Taiwan’s raucous politics for Washington and to underscore that the self-ruled island has a robust democratic process, no matter the outcome of the election.

At present, independence-leaning DPP presidential candidate and current Vice-President William Lai Ching-te is leading in the polls against Hou Yu-ih of the opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT), which has framed the contest as a choice between war and peace. The race is complicated by the inclusion of former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je of the upstart populist Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

Hsiao, a strong campaigner with particular appeal among contested younger Taiwanese voters, thought long and hard about running for vice-president, analysts said.

“Her decision to resign and join the Lai ticket was not one that she took lightly,” Templeman said. “But her presence in Taipei could help Lai maintain good communication with the US if he is elected.”

Yui served as Taiwan’s foreign vice-minister with a specialty in Latin American and Caribbean Affairs before moving to Brussels. Taipei has touted his experience forging various exchanges among Taiwan, the US and Latin American countries, although the portfolio has seen a number of defections over the years as more nations have officially recognised China.

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If the China-leaning KMT wins, the Washington job would probably require a lot of liaison work explaining to the White House, Congress and think tanks a likely backtracking from the DPP’s harder-line military policies and larger weapons sales.

In addition to the security aid package, Taiwan also has a keen interest in a range of other US legislation. Since 2017, 124 bills have been introduced that explicitly mention Taiwan in their title or description, compared to 62 such bills from 2009 to 2016, according to a study by the Global Taiwan Institute.

Among the bills introduced in 2023 are those targeting cybersecurity resilience, tax agreements and invasion prevention. As of late November, 36 Taiwan-related bills were introduced this year, breaking 2021’s record.

The report notes, however, that the growing number of bills has not led to a sizeable increase in the number actually passed into law.

The job also entails finessing the sensitive issue of military sales to Taiwan. Under the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act passed into law last year, the US government is authorised to spend up to $2 billion annually from 2023 to 2027 in military grant assistance to the island. By some accounts, there is a US$19 billion backlog in weapons sold to Taiwan but not yet delivered.

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Here, Taiwan often walks a fine line, keen to upgrade its defence capability without adopting wholesale the aggressive posture some hardline US lawmakers maintain that threatens to further anger Beijing.

Hsiao, who served four terms in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s lawmaking body, was also head of the DPP’s international affairs department, adviser to the president and the party’s international spokesperson. She has a master’s degree in political science from Columbia University in New York and an undergraduate degree in East Asian studies from Oberlin College in Ohio.

Just 12 countries plus the Vatican now recognise Taiwan, including seven in the Americas region, compared to 22 a decade ago. Yui was previously posted to El Salvador, Switzerland, and Paraguay and had an earlier assignment in the US.
China views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited by force if necessary. Most countries, including the United States, do not recognise the self-governing island as an independent state. But Washington’s policy is to support Taiwan’s military defence capability as well as its expanded presence in global health, crime prevention and aviation – objectives Beijing opposes.



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