President Ma Ying-jeou welcomes Governor Beshear and the Kentucky delegation to Taiwan. May 15, 2012. [Image: Steve Beshear/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

Taiwan Matters to Kentucky

Taiwan Asia

Taiwan and Kentucky have enjoyed a special relationship for many years. In fact, a sister-state partnership was established in 1982. This established the special economic and cultural relationship that is enjoyed today.

The presence of Taiwanese people and culture in Kentucky is also nothing new. In 1984, Taiwanese immigrants to Kentucky established the Taiwanese Lexington Chinese School in order to ensure their children, and future generations, would be able to learn traditional Chinese language and culture. Since then, Kentucky’s connections to Taiwan have only grown.

In recent years the significance of Taiwan-Kentucky relations has been seen clearly. In July 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Director-General Wang of Taiwan met with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. In this meeting, the two discussed the desire to further strengthen their bi-lateral economic partnership. Governor Beshear thanked Taiwan for their donation of 80,000 surgical masks to Kentucky frontline medical workers.

In a meeting in August 2020, between Director-General Wang and Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, Director-General Wang invited high-level Kentucky trade delegates to visit Taiwan, with the prospect of setting up a trade office. Secretary Adams also presented Director General Wang with a Commonwealth Ambassador certificate as a sign of welcome and partnership from the state.

A significant step forward in Taiwan-Kentucky relations can be seen from the signing of a memorandum of understanding on educational cooperation between Taiwan's Ministry of Education and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Signed in 2021, Kentucky was the first state to sign this MOU after the 2020 US-Taiwan Education Initiative. The MOU will increase access to Chinese and English instruction, by allowing qualified teachers to have easier access in obtaining appropriate visas. This will encourage American English teachers to go to Taiwan and Taiwanese Chinese teachers to come to the United States.

On December 10, 2021, western Kentucky was hit by a deadly tornado. On the ground for more than 160 miles, causing significant damage and killing 80 people, it put the region into a state of emergency. In response, Taiwan donated $100,000 to the Team Western Kentucky Relief Fund. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta, Georgia also donated hundreds of gift cards to the First Lady’s Western Kentucky Toy Drive that was put in place for children and families affected by the tornados.

Taiwanese support for the tornado victims did not stop there. The Tzu Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese humanitarian international non-governmental organization, also responded. A handful of volunteers went to the areas hardest hit by the tornado and organized a two-day distribution event, providing necessary goods such as blankets, scarves, and masks. The foundation further provided $1000 cash-cards for households most severely impacted by the storm.

In January 2022, in response to Taiwan’s generous and giving contributions to the disaster in Kentucky, the Kentucky Senate unanimously adopted a resolution to honor Kentucky’s connection to Taiwan. The Senate expressed their gratitude and appreciation for Taiwan and the connection they share with the people of Kentucky. The friendship resolution passed by the Senate illustrates the depth and importance of the connection between Taiwan and Kentucky.

Taiwan continues to be an important economic partner of Kentucky as well, investing $11 million in the state and supporting around 1,900 jobs. The relationship between Taiwan and Kentucky has become stronger than ever. It is clear that Taiwan matters to Kentucky and Kentucky matters to Taiwan.

Travis Cole is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington DC. Obtaining his BA from Sichuan University, he is now a second-year graduate student at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School, studying International Development and Diplomacy.