The US Senate on Thursday passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which would not only provide military aid to Taiwan, but implement the Taiwan Fellowship Act to send US federal employees to Taiwan to learn Mandarin and work in government agencies. If US President Joe Biden signs it into law, it would be a milestone regarding the two countries’ partnership as China ramps up its threats against Taiwan and the region.
The act requires the US government to establish a two-year fellowship program to assign primary or mid-level federal employees from executive, legislative or judicial branches, to live in Taiwan, learning Mandarin intensively for one year and working for another year in a Taiwanese administrative department, parliamentary office or approved organization related to the fellow’s expertise. The fellows would be required to continue serving in the US government for at least four years after completing the program, to enhance understanding of Taiwan’s politics, history, culture and related regional issues.
To replace China’s Confucius Institutes in the US, Taipei and Washington in 2020 signed the US-Taiwan Education Initiative to expand scholarships for academics and students, and promote language and culture education. To assist with Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities, US arm sales to Taiwan have increased over the years, while about 3,000 US military officers and 1,500 Taiwanese officers take part in an annual training exchange program.
The Taiwan Fellowship Program is offered to US government employees for a longer period, enabling them to develop a more in-depth understanding of Taiwan’s government and its policymaking process, and to establish relationships with their Taiwanese counterparts. Those fellows could become a vital force in supporting improved Taiwan-US relations. US Senator Ed Markey, a cosponsor of the Taiwan Fellowship Act, said in a statement that the bill would contribute to “creating a stronger, more resilient US-Taiwan partnership.”
The US-Japan Mansfield Fellowship Program, which was launched in 1994 and became the model for the Taiwan Fellowship Program, has produced hundreds of US government employees who have a better understanding of the political, economic and strategic dimensions of the two countries’ relations, facilitating their agencies’ work on Japan-related programs and policies.
One such example is US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Missile Defense John D. Hill, who is a Mansfield program alumnus and was formerly US director for Northeast Asia and senior country director for Japan. He led the US Department of Defense’s management of alliance relationships with Japan and South Korea, and oversaw security policies for the Korean Peninsula.
However, many foreign dignitaries, not just from the US, have studied or worked in Taiwan. They include former Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, as well as Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, who has been extremely supportive of Taiwan, to the point that he has faced pressure from China.
On the other hand, allowing US or any foreign federal employees to work in government agencies might raise concerns about national security. The government must assign dedicated officials to negotiate and arrange the US fellows’ internships for security reasons, while maximizing potential advances in Taiwan-US relations.
Due to China’s increasing threat to the international community, Taiwan has become a crucial element in maintaining stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally. Taipei should consider establishing more fellowship exchange programs with like-minded countries to deepen cultural, political and economic ties.
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