Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen dealt with personnel matters for Taiwan’s overseas representative offices prior to her second inauguration on May 20. According to Taiwanese insiders, Hsieh Chang-ting, representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan, is likely to continue in his current position. Tsai is expected to appoint Hsiao Bi-khim as Taiwan’s representative to the U.S. Hsiao is a close aide of Tsai and a member of the president’s advisory body, the National Security Council. The appointments are viewed as moves to further strengthen diplomatic ties between Taiwan and major nations amid heightened global interest in Taiwan due to such issues as its joining the World Health Organization (WHO).
Following Taiwan’s democratic reforms, it has been common for its representative to Japan to be replaced every four years in line with the president’s term of office. It is rare for the representative to serve a second term. Hsieh has served as Premier of Taiwan in the past. Since taking office as the representative to Japan in 2016, Hsieh has traveled to all 47 prefectures and worked to build relationships with the Japanese government, public officials, and the business community. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed support for Taiwan’s participation in the WHO’s World Health Assembly twice in the Diet this year. Hsieh’s diligent efforts behind the scenes were recognized as instrumental in Abe’s expressions of support. An increasing number of people in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan’s ruling party, reportedly say that “Hsieh should not be replaced at a time when Japan-Taiwan relations are at their best.”
If Hsieh does remain in his present position, he is expected to lobby Japan strongly for Taiwan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), an initiative in which Japan is taking the lead. On the other hand, Hsieh reportedly stressed to Tsai that the “next generation of Taiwan-Japan diplomats must be trained.” There is a possibility that Hsieh will step down to pass the baton to a younger official during his term even if he continues to serve this time.
Hsiao, the most likely person to be the incoming representative to the U.S., will be Taiwan’s first female representative to the U.S. She has a Taiwanese father and American mother, and is fluent in English. She worked in the area of Taiwan-U.S. diplomacy within the DPP from early on in her career and has a rich network of contacts in the U.S. Hsiao has served four terms as a member of the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament. She ran in the January 2020 elections but failed to win a seat. She became an advisory member of the National Security Council in April 2020. Hsiao is known to be a close friend of Tsai.
President Trump held a teleconference with Tsai in December 2016 before he took office. In recent years, the Trump administration has taken a stance of clearly attaching great importance to Taiwan. Taiwan would like to build an even closer relationship with the U.S. According to Taiwanese insiders, Tsai aims to hold direct talks with the incumbent U.S. President during her second term. Tsai is apparently planning to send her close friend to the U.S. in the hope that Hsiao will become a mediator between Taiwan and the U.S.