A picture of Kaohsiung, the largest port city in Taiwan.

Kaohsiung and Coos Bay Partnership Marks New Chapter in Taiwan-Oregon Relations

Taiwan Asia

On March 14th, 2024, the Port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan and the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that highlighted mutual commitments to improving services and problem-solving in the maritime industry. The partnership comes as the latest development in a rich history of sister relations between Taiwan and Oregon.

The United States and Taiwan are no stranger to robust people-to-people connections – with over one hundred sister city partnerships between Taiwanese cities and US cities and states, cities in Taiwan like Taichung, Taipei, Tainan, and Kaohsiung boast more of these partnerships than any other city in the Indo-Pacific.

Taiwanese cities comprise five of the top twelve Asian cities with the most sister city partnerships in the United States. Graph created by EWC Young Professional Vincent Zhang using data from Asia Matters for America.

The United States and Taiwan have enjoyed over six decades of sister city relations, beginning in 1961 with the foundation of the Houston Taipei Society. In the over half-century since then, the island nation has expanded these connections to 36 US states, ranging from partnerships between cities across the Pacific as well as higher-level linkages between Taiwan and US states. Among this group of states is Oregon, whose nearly 40-year relationship with Taiwan has recently deepened with the signing of the March 14th MoU.

Kaohsiung and Coos Bay

Although Kaohsiung’s eleven sister city partnerships in the United States squares with its position as Taiwan’s largest port city, its partnership with Coos Bay, Oregon – the state’s 39th largest city – might not seem like a natural fit at first. Despite being relatively unknown to international maritime trade, however, Coos Bay is in fact the largest deep-draft coastal harbor between San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound as well as Oregon's second busiest maritime commerce center after the Port of Portland.

The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay, the city’s resident port authority, is planning to massively upgrade Coos Bay’s capacity by way of the Pacific Coast Intermodal Port Project (PCIP). Through a public-private partnership between the port authority and NorthPoint Development, a Kansas City-based firm specializing in industrial development, the project entails the construction of a $1.8 billion intermodal facility. When completed, the PCIP will be the first fully ship-to-rail port facility on the US west coast, which aims to provide additional port capacity without a corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The PCIP is smiled upon by organizations who stand to benefit from expanded international maritime trade through Coos Bay, such as the West Coast Seafood Producers Association (WCSPA), which represents a broad coalition of seafood processors from Washington, Oregon, and California.

“The Port of Coos Bay is really our largest international port and terminal,” said Lori Steele, the executive director of WCSPA. “And they are not only making efforts to make expansions and grow as an international shipping terminal, but they’re also making significant investments in the future of their fishing and seafood industry down there.”

Given Coos Bay’s ambitious aims to realize its full potential as an international port, the March 14th agreement to partner with Taiwan’s preeminent hub of maritime trade comes as little surprise. Although exact text of the MoU has not been made public, the Coos Bay World reports that the cooperation between the two port cities “underscores the commitment to share best practices, technological advancements, and innovative solutions in the maritime industry.”

“In a fast-changing world, this partnership is a testament to our shared commitment to advancing port operations and infrastructure development,” said the CEO of the port authority, John Burns. “By combining our strengths and knowledge, we aim to create a positive impact on both regions. We want to build a Port of the future in Coos Bay, and cementing this relationship with a forward-thinking partner bolsters our efforts.”

Taiwan and Oregon

Oregon Governor Victor Atiyeh’s 1986 sister state proclamation marked the formal beginning of Taiwan-Oregon relations, although the proclamation notes that Taiwan had been “a long time trusted friend and trading partner” with Oregon. Specifically, it observes that the commercial and cultural relations between the two have always been “excellent and mutually beneficial” and that Taiwan’s principles of nationalism, democracy, and social well-being are “much admired by Oregonians.” Spurred on by this proclamation, Beaverton – the second largest city in the state, after Portland – took Oregon’s sisterly affinity for Taiwan to heart in the following year. The Beaverton City Council signed a sister city agreement with Hsinchu on June 7th, 1988, marking the city’s second ever sister city after Gotemba, a city in Japan.

The next major development in Taiwan-Oregon relations coincided roughly around the same time with the formation of the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Association (PKSCA) in November 1987; at the association’s behest, the Portland City Council officially approved Kaohsiung as Portland’s sister city on May 11th, 1988. On October 11th of that year, Portland city commissioners Dick Bogle and Mike Lindberg signed the sister city agreement with the Mayor of Kaohsiung at the time, Su Nan-cheng. To commemorate the occasion, the association presented Mayor Su with a freshly caught Chinook salmon from Oregon’s Tillamook Bay, signifying the two cities’ shared connection to the Pacific Ocean.

The Hsinchu-Beaverton relationship has remained strong to this day and entails frequent exchanges of teachers, students, and technicians from Taiwan and Oregon; starting in 2002, Hsinchu and Beaverton began exchanging official delegations with one another. The Beaverton City Council website includes a page about its sister relationship with Hsinchu, complete with educational materials about Hsinchu's sustainability practices and instructions on how to visit the city.

Kaohsiung-Portland connections are even more robust: in Portland's Willamette River, the PKSCA hosts the annual Portland Rose Festival Dragon Boat Race, where upwards of 96 dragon boat teams race in Taiwan-style dragon boats. The PKSCA, on behalf of the Kaohsiung and Portland municipal governments, also jointly sponsors the Grand Floral Parade Float, which has prominently featured a music and dance group from Kaohsiung's Shu-Te High School since 1989; Kaohsiung’s mayor, riding in a VIP convertible, frequently appears part of the parade. In 2021, Kaohsiung took center stage in the sister city relationship by hosting the Portland Kaohsiung Sister & Friendly Cities Exhibition, which was displayed at Kaohsiung City Hall Lobby in Taiwan for the entire month of November.

Oregon's Continued Commitment

On March 4th, 2024, the 82nd Oregon Legislative Assembly passed an unprecedented resolution “recogniz[ing] the importance of a strong and enduring partnership between the State of Oregon and Taiwan.” House Concurrent Resolution 203 (HCR203) references the initial 1986 sister state proclamation, acknowledging Taiwan and Oregon’s shared commitments to democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and the market economy. HCR203 goes a step further than Atiyeh’s proclamation, however, noting Taiwan’s robust commercial connections with the United States: according to the resolution, in 2022, Taiwan was the eighth-largest trading partner of the United States, with trade totaling $135.5 billion. In 2021, Taiwan was the seventh-largest export market for overall US agricultural products, the sixth-largest export market for US beef, and the eighth-largest export market for US wheat.

As for Taiwan-Oregon ties, HCR203 refers to the establishment of the Kaohsiung-Portland relationship in 1988, a 2015 driver license reciprocity agreement, and a letter of intent between the Oregon Wheat Commission and the Taiwan Flour Mills Association in 2022. Owing to these “landmark... economic opportunities and prosperities,” Taiwan has cemented itself as Oregon’s ninth-largest export destination, seventh-largest import source, and ninth-largest trading partner overall. Boasting a total trade value of $2.39 billion, the Taiwan-Oregon commercial relationship is dominated by mostly commodity goods like semiconductor parts, electric machinery, chemicals, optical and medical equipment, and agricultural products. HCR203 was adopted by the Oregon State House with a 54-6 vote and then by the Oregon Senate unanimously, showing just how strong Oregon’s commitments to its Pacific partner remain after nearly 40 years of sister state relations.

Vincent Zhang is a Spring 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a senior at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, pursuing a B.S.F.S. in International Politics with a concentration in Foreign Policy.