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Taiwan’s New Envoy to Washington Has Deep Ties to America

Hsiao Bi-khim, the first woman to serve as Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the United States, has an American mother and studied in the U.S., Photo taken on Oct. 19, 2016.
Hsiao Bi-khim, the first woman to serve as Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the United States, has an American mother and studied in the U.S., Photo taken on Oct. 19, 2016.

Bi-khim Hsiao, a confidante of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, has arrived in Washington to lead Taiwan’s diplomatic mission. Hsiao told reporters this week that her schedule has been full of teleconferences and some in-person visits since she arrived in Washington a week ago.

On Tuesday, she presided over a ceremony that saw Taiwan donate a quarter-million face masks to the American Legion, the largest organization of wartime veterans in the United States. The day before, she met with the top official at the State Department in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Hsiao is no stranger to America. She grew up in a bicultural household — her father is Taiwanese, her mother an American — and was educated in the United States at Oberlin College and Columbia University. She has had previous dealings with U.S. officials, both as a legislator and as an adviser to Tsai and other top officials in Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Her appointment follows a decisive DPP victory in legislative and presidential elections at the start of this year. That has emboldened the legislature to introduce changes, including revising the official name of the self-governing territory as it appears on passports from “Republic of China” to simply “Taiwan.”

The previous name reflected earlier administrations’ claims, maintained for decades after the 1949 communist revolution, to be the legitimate government of all of China.

Asked before leaving for Washington about the island’s delicate balancing act between Washington and Beijing, Hsiao said that deepening U.S.-Taiwan ties is her natural duty, and that she would leave the rest to the officials in Taipei.

But, she added in an interview with Taiwan’s Central News Agency, in her own opinion, “any normal person would side with those who support, instead of undermine, us.”

At the same time, she acknowledged that Taiwan’s geostrategic environment requires it to maintain a dialogue with all, including those who are not necessarily Taiwan’s friends. To that end, Hsiao describes her counterpart, Cui Tiankai, Beijing’s top representative in Washington, as seasoned and highly skilled.

Under U.S. President Donald Trump, the United States has moved closer diplomatically to Taiwan, even at the risk of angering Beijing. But Hsiao brushed aside concerns that those ties might suffer setbacks if Trump loses his re-election bid, pointing out that Taiwan has long enjoyed bipartisan support in the U.S.

Among its strongest supporters is Representative Ted Yoho of Florida, the most senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Asia Pacific subcommittee. Last month, he and the subcommittee chair, Representative Ami Bera, a Democrat from California, joined two senators in introducing a bicameral bill aimed at strengthening Americans’ knowledge of Taiwan.

The bill, known as the Taiwan Fellowship Act, provides for 10 U.S. government officials to be chosen each year to spend two years studying and working in Taiwan.

Yoho said the bill would not only strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan relationship but also enhance the U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the bill “pushes back on China’s work to isolate the island nation diplomatically.”

On Wednesday, Yoho, introduced another bill, the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act, to “clarify and strengthen the commitment of the United States to defend Taiwan in the event of an armed attack” from across the Taiwan Strait.

However, with congressional elections looming, both bills face uncertain prospects of becoming law.

Hsiao, the first woman to serve as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, has identified her ultimate goal as “helping to ensure that Taiwanese people stand tall and feel respected among the world community.”

She said in the CNA interview that she was bringing her four cats with her to Washington, noting that cats are known for their ability to find their way out in tight and narrow spaces.

In an age marked by China’s wolf warrior diplomacy, Hsiao said she didn’t mind being known as a cat warrior.

VOA’s Mandarin service contributed to this report.