In March, Taiwan’s Representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to sign a Memorandum of Education Cooperative with the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and the Alabama Department of Education. This makes Alabama the second state to do so following the 2020 launch of the US-Taiwan Education Initiative. The goal of the US-Taiwan Education initiative is to establish US-Taiwan teaching and education exchanges, and promote Mandarin Chinese and English language education. The memorandum now needs to be signed by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education.
Representative Bi-Khim Hsaio was also present to accept a resolution unanimously passed by the Alabama legislature that promotes US-Taiwan bilingual exchanges and Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. It also encouraged members to join the Southeastern State Legislative Taiwan Caucus, which has over 300 members and supports progress on a US-Taiwan bilateral trade agreement and opening a trade office in Taiwan.
The first state to sign a similar cooperative agreement was Kentucky in October 2021. However, there have been many universities throughout the United States who have recently signed cooperative agreements with Taiwanese universities. Kentucky’s Department of Education signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Taiwan Ministry of Education in November 2021. In March 2022, Utah State University and National Chung Hsing University signed an agreement to extend their exchanges and cooperation, which were formalized in 2018. The Taiwan Studies Program at the University of Washington signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education in Taiwan in October 2020. National Sun Yat-sen University and West Virginia University signed an agreement in December 2021. In February 2021, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Asia Pacific Center received $2 million from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) through the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles (TECO-LA) to support two of its academic programs. Agreements such as these have been increasing as Taiwan increases its soft power and US-China tensions rise.
Alabama’s education agreement and resolution highlight the economic and people to people ties between Taiwan and Alabama. In 2016, goods exported from Alabama to Taiwan totaled $298 million, with 680 jobs directly supported by exports to Taiwan. In terms of people-to-people connections, 71 Taiwanese students studied in Alabama in the 2016-2017 school year. Additionally, visitors from Taiwan spent $15.7 million in Alabama in 2016.
Agreements and resolutions are symbolic but are backed up by genuine actions and reinforce new opportunities for more exchange and cooperation. Opportunities for language exchanges, teaching fellowships, sister city partnerships, and new business connections are possible between Taiwan and Alabama thanks to resolutions like this one. As Alabama joins universities and states building formal connections with Taiwan, the importance of US-Taiwan relations grows.
Abbigail Hull is a Projects Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.