Bridging the Connection between Hawai‘i and Taiwan

Posted on Jan 9, 2023 in BDSD, News, Sister States, Study Hawaii, Taipei Office, Taiwan

By Allison Schaefers. Honolulu Star Advertiser. Posted on January 9, 2023

TAIPEI >> About 100 Taiwanese students are expected to arrive in Hawaii in March to compete in the Hawaii FIRST Robotics Competition, a regional qualifying event required for advancing to an international level.

Another large contingent from Taiwan is slated to perform that same month at the Honolulu Festival, which was founded to promote understanding, economic cooperation and ethnic harmony in Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. And in April about 60 hula dancers from Taiwan are anticipated to dance at the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, an event groups from Taiwan attended twice in a row before the COVID-19 pandemic.

These spring events will build on opportunities created by the State of Hawaii Office in Taipei, or SHOT, which was established about a quarter-century ago and falls under the guidance of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

In an interview at his office in the bustling Taipei World Trade Center, SHOT Director Alex Lei said his staff is focused on bringing more students from Taiwan to study in Hawaii, as well as promoting cultural exchange and improving government relations, which could benefit this year from the 30th anniversary of the Hawaii-Taiwan sister-state relationship.

Gains also are expected from the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the reopening of tourism with direct flights between Hawaii and Taiwan, which could resume as soon as March.

Lei said SHOT leverages relationships to attract export assistance to bring made-in-Hawaii products to Taiwan such as coffee, which the American Institute in Taiwan’s Agricultural Trade Office has identified as an opportunity crop. SHOT also works to increase Taiwanese business investment in Hawaii, especially in key areas such as real estate, trade and clean-energy initiatives — an important area of growth for Taiwan, which has been doubling down on its message to the international community that it wants to make greater contributions to creating a net-zero world.

Students from Taiwan — the ninth-largest group of international students to Hawaii in 2021 — played a role in generating direct spending by all foreign students in Hawaii, which reached $105 million in 2021, according to DBEDT. With ripple effects, DBEDT estimated that international students in Hawaii contributed $208.5 million in economic output, $14.7 million in state taxes, $91 million in household income and supported 2,741 jobs.

Lei said that before the pandemic, students from Taiwan made up a larger share of international students who were in the islands for special events, camps and language studies as well as higher education. He said Director General Ho Yi-Ming of the Economic Development Administration in the New Taipei City Government has expressed the administration’s interest in enhancing education and economic cooperation with Hawaii.

“Great numbers of Taiwanese students, when they choose to study abroad, the U.S. is always No. 1,” Lei said. “Current President Ing-wen Tsai is U.S.-educated. Former President Ying-jeou Ma is U.S.-educated. A lot of high-ranking officials in Taiwan graduated from college in the U.S.”

Lei said specialty educational programs also promote cultural exchange while building business connections.

“The Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan has a big telescope on the Big Island. There are Taiwanese scientists working on that station, and oftentimes they send students and scholars,” he said.

Lei said that since 2013 the East-West Center in Manoa has hosted the Pacific Islands Leadership Program, which is funded by the Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The program, geared to developing a network of collaborative leaders focused on building prosperity in the Pacific region, includes a visit to Taiwan.

“People in Taiwan like and love the U.S. not because the U.S. has tried to defend us from China; this is a long-lasting relationship from 10, 20 to 30 or 40 years ago,” Lei said. “The U.S. always has been a country that we admire.”

He said the sister-state relationship between Hawaii and Taiwan dates back to 1993 and has been mutually beneficial. As part of the arrangement, the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs subsidizes one-third, or about $4,200, of the rent for SHOT’s Taipei office. Altogether the office’s entire expenses were under $90,000 in fiscal year 2020.

In 2020 the sister-state relationship helped Hawaii boost its stock of personal protection equipment when SHOT reached out to the National Women’s League of Taiwan, leading to a donation of 1,000 isolation gowns and 10,000 surgical masks. With COVID-19 restrictions loosening and tourism reopening, the relationship now is more likely to expand business, cultural and educational options.

Jennifer Chun, DBEDT director of tourism research, said that through the first nine months of this year, only 2,000 visitors came to Hawaii from Taiwan, most of whom arrived on flights from the U.S. mainland. Chun said a tourism forecast from Oxford Economics is optimistic about recovery of the Taiwanese market but assumes resumption of direct flights.

Cy Feng, head of the greater China market at the Honda International Center at Kapiolani Community College, capitalized on the potential for a tourism return with a visit to Taiwan from Dec. 14 to 20, when he participated in international education fairs and made school visits to recruit for educational and cultural exchanges to Hawaii.

Feng said international studies are important to KCC, where in 2022 the studies generated $18.73 million in sales, $1.44 million in tax revenue and supported 195 jobs.

He said SHOT was inva­luable in helping him make connections with international students in Taiwan and follow up on leads.

“When students are interested they can go to the office and pick up materials and talk to someone about Hawaii,” Feng said. “They helped facilitate meetings with alumni, too.”

Feng said another purpose of his trip was to help start a program to link the Indigenous populations from both sides.

“They both have very strong sustained culture. Hawaiian culture and Taiwanese Indigenous culture are very similar,” he said, adding that studies have connected Hawaiians to Taiwanese Indigenous people.

Ka‘iwakiloumoku, a Pacific Indigenous Institute, in 2022 held a conversation on “Indigenous Taiwan: Birthplace of Polynesian Languages and Pacific Navigation.”

A genetic study published in 2005 that was conducted by Jean Trejaut of the Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei and his colleagues analyzed mitochondrial DNA from Indigenous Taiwanese and found it closely related to Polynesians.

Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s ex-officio ambassador to the U.S., visited Bishop Museum in Honolulu on Nov. 17, and the museum has sent collections to Taiwan in the past.

DBEDT Business Development and Support Division Administrator Dennis Ling said establishing cultural and educational connections between Hawaii and Taiwan has a way of leading to other business and investments. For instance, Ling said there is potential for Hawaii to create business opportunities from Taiwan’s hula culture much like it has in Japan, where hula teachers are going over to teach and sell hula-related goods.

Lei said Hawaii’s cultural links to Taiwan, as well as its geographic position in the Asia-Pacific region, make it an appealing pilot location for Taiwanese companies looking to expand into the U.S.

To promote bilateral trade, Lei has met with the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, a quasi-nongovernmental organization under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. It’s also promising that the Taiwan- U.S. Initiative on 21st-Century Trade, launched in June, is slated to begin a new round of meetings Saturday to Jan. 17 in Taipei City.

Lei said investors interested in Hawaii mostly “want to purchase real estate, agriculture, and some people are interested in medical such as assisted- living facilities.”

Ling said, “The most recent one that comes to mind was an elderly-care facility in Hauula.”

Lei said the Taiwanese also are well known “for renewables like solar panels and wind turbines.”

He said SHOT promotes the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo in Honolulu and makes speeches at the Taiwan Clean Energy Summit to introduce Hawaii and invite Taiwanese companies to visit and partner with Hawaii companies.

TECO, a Taiwanese company actively engaged in the energy transition, is one of the companies that is studying options for Hawaii partnerships, according to Lei. He expects Taiwan’s aggressive “green” goals will expand opportunities.

Minister Tzi-Chin Chang, who leads the Environmental Protection Administration in Taiwan, told the international press group visiting Taipei in November that Taiwan plans to invest $30 billion by 2030 to promote four transition strategies focused on energy, industry, lifestyle and society that it sees as critical to getting the nation to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Hawaii has an even more ambitious goal of becoming the first U.S. state to make the switch to 100% renewable energy, a task it hopes to complete by 2045. In September, Hawaii closed its last coal-fired power plant.

Historically, Taiwan has relied heavily on nuclear, gas and coal energy sources but is now focused on other alternatives.

Chang said there is room for future cooperation with Hawaii, an island with similarities, in the area of green development. For instance, one of the challenges Taiwan faces in the development of renewable energy is limited space, which is one of the reasons Taiwan is developing offshore wind power.

Taiwan already has its first utility-scale offshore wind farm, the Formosa I Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Miaoli County. Eventually, the project could reach five phases, powering more than 3 million Taiwanese households.

Editor’s note:

Allison Schaefers, Honolulu Star- Advertiser Waikiki bureau chief, was part of an international press group sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan in November.