Taiwan's Opportunity for 'State to States' Relations

This article first appeared in Taiwan’s Do Post.

One of the biggest lessons for me from the 2016 presidential election in the United States was how so many political leaders and experts were so wrong. Many Democrats and Republicans alike felt like they lost the election, when in fact they had lost their connection to the country beyond the capital.

Much of my career was  based in Washington, DC, involved in government and public policy. It wasn’t until after I left the White House I began spending a great deal of my time in politics among voters, and that experience has opened my eyes to the importance of work done in the states.

While the government of Taiwan faces diplomatic obstacles at the international and national level, there are no obstacles to your investing in substantially better relations with state, provincial, or local elected and business leaders in most countries around the world.

The strategy I recommend to you is “special state to states relations”. It was former President Lee who made the phrase “special state to state relations” famous as a description of the relationship between Taiwan and China. The strategy I promote is to play on the word “state” which to an American has two meanings: a country or one of the 50 states. Put simply, I recommend Taiwanese leaders in government and business focus more on the special relationships existing between Taiwan and priority states within the US and provinces or other local relationships within other countries.

Not all localities are equal, some may have too much dependence on China, others may already have strong ties to Taiwan. My recommendation is to concentrate on the state and local areas where you know Taiwan has existing natural advantages.

Idaho is an example I use most, because that’s where I live, but also because the people of Idaho already have a significant relationship with Taiwan. They just don’t know enough about it. Taiwan is Idaho’s third largest trade partner and Idaho (by way of Micron Technology) is Taiwan’s largest international investor.

There are other US states that have special relationships with Taiwan and no doubt with collaboration among your worldwide membership, you can identify priority states, provinces, and localities in other countries that are most worthy of being a priority target for added investment in relationships with Taiwan.

While investment in D.C. is important and should be continued, there is one group that elected officials will listen to above all: their constituents. One of the greatest lessons from my time in politics is that voters care a great deal about the United States position on the international stage; however, their daily focus is spent on the things directly impacting their lives. With a bit of strategic investment in business and education in targeted areas, Taiwan can have a great influence on voters, indirectly influencing American elected officials.