A Chance to Strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan Relationship
Perhaps the most difficult period for a country that is making a transition from an authoritarian form of government to one of democratic principles, is the time in which the dust has settled, and the hard work must truly begin. After the euphoria of taking off the yoke of an oppressive government has subsided, the building of both a responsible government and civil society must take place in order for such a transition to be truly successful. Taiwan is currently in this “adolescent” period of its development. Although Taiwan has become increasingly isolated diplomatically over the past several decades, the people and government of Taiwan have continued to maintain a special and unique relationship with another state that has had its share of growing pains over the centuries: The United States.
The Ambassador Program, which is sponsored by the American-based Formosa Foundation, has looked to strengthen this relationship between the two countries by educating college level students about issues that effect both the United States and Taiwan, and then challenging these students to enter into the American political system with the role of advocating such issues to members of the United States Congress.
This two week “political boot camp” first educates the participants by introducing them to guest speakers who are among the best in their respective fields in order to give the students the knowledge and tools necessary to advocate for issues that are of mutual interest to Taiwan and the United States. In 2012, students had the opportunity to meet and engage with a number of experts on US-Taiwan relations. A few of these people included recently retired Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, long time Taiwan supporter Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Project 2049 CEO and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randy Schriver, former Director of AIT Dr. Richard Bush, and former Legislative Yuan representative Winston Dang.
During the second week of the program the students will use their enhanced knowledge of current issues that are important to US-Taiwan relations and advocate for these issues with members of Congress and their respective staffs. The promotion of democracy, human rights, free media and press within Taiwan, as well as their importance to American interests are discussed, as well as issues of Taiwan's security agreements with the United States, enhanced trade among the two countries, and the overall improvement of relations. Last year students met with over 176 members of Congress and their staff with the goal of the strengthening of ties between the two countries. The program ended last year with students pressing for members of Congress to sign a letter that was to be delivered to President Obama, urging the resumption of talks between the two countries regarding a free trade agreement: talks that have now been scheduled to resume. There is a great sense of pride when one completes this program: I felt it last year as a participant.
The 2013 program is scheduled to take place from June 17th-28th, and I would encourage all interested students to apply at www.formosafoundation.org. The deadline to apply is March 25th.