A toast to Taiwan was given by Elliot Wang, surrounded by diplomats, law makers and former state and federal officials. Credit: TECO Atlanta

In a nod to nautical networking, Taiwan’s local diplomatic office held its National Day celebration at the Georgia Aquarium Thursday, raising a toast to a year of enhanced collaboration with states across the Southeast U.S.

While it has been a bad year for Taiwan’s global diplomatic standing — it lost another erstwhile ally in Honduras to China in March — its work among lawmakers in this region has accelerated as concerns about China have grown. 

This level of official interaction was unthinkable just a few years ago, when states were still looking to curry favor with China and an anticipated wave of coming investors from the country.

But fast forward to this year, U.S. tensions with the mainland have risen along with the resolve to support Taiwan in the case of a Chinese invasion. 

China considers Taiwan a renegade province to be eventually reunited with the mainland, and its forces have ramped up military exercises around the island and flights into its airspace, at times intensely in response to visits by U.S. officials. 

Director-General Elliot Wang of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office recounted examples of deepening ties with the Southeast in a brief speech. 

“Today, as we gather to celebrate our National Day, we’re not just honoring a date on the calendar. We are celebrating the spirit of resilience, innovation and collaboration that defines our great nation,” Mr. Wang said. “Our journey has been marked by challenges, triumphs, and the unwavering determination to forge a brighter future for ourselves and for generations to come.” 

Director-General Elliot Wang, center, took photos with guests in front of the window into the Ocean Voyager exhibit.

Achievements cited include increased Taiwanese purchases of Kentucky corn and soybeans, a recent electric-vehicle delegation to the Carolinas and a new North Carolina trade office in Taipei

On the day of the celebration, a group of executive MBA candidates from National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung were touring Georgia Tech and meeting with companies in metro Atlanta, exemplifying a continued commitment to educational exchanges. 

Auburn University, Mr. Wang said, has launched a Taiwan Center, and the TECO office has signed memoranda of understanding on education with Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina.

A Taiwan Center for Mandarin Learning opened in Atlanta in Chamblee in 2021, soon after most China-backed Confucius Institutes closed down after the U.S. government raised concerns about their ties with the Chinese Communist Party.

Perhaps most telling of the change in posture among lawmakers toward Taiwan is the Southeastern State Legislative Taiwan Caucus, a group of some 300 state lawmakers from all six states in the Taipei office’s territory. The chairs of the delegation visited Taiwan this year, underscoring “the importance of people-to-people connections in building bridges of understanding and collaboration,” Mr. Wang said. 

State Rep. Matthew Gambill of Bartow County is the co-chair of the caucus from Georgia and was with the group of Southern lawmakers that visited Taiwan. 

To close, guests at the Ocean Ballroom were treated to a snapshot of. ongoing research between National Taiwan Ocean University and the Georgia Aquarium. 

The two sides have been working together to affix acoustic tags to whale sharks to monitor migration patterns off the Taiwanese coast. 

Whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, have wowed guests at the world’s biggest aquarium in Atlanta since they first were shipped via a UPS Airlines plane to Atlanta in 2005. But these giants and their food sources have more to do with humans than just inspiring awe. 

“Half of the oxygen in your lungs right now was produced by plankton in the ocean, the same plankton that whale sharks feed on — the Taiwanese whale sharks that you can see in the Ocean Voyager Exhibit behind you,” said Alistair Dove, vice president of science and education at the Georgia Aquarium.

As a buffet dinner was served, a scuba diver descended into the depths of the tank to greeted guests with a “Cheers Taiwan!” sign through one of the ballroom’s large windows. 

The emcee urged guests to get their selfies quickly, as the diver only had about 20 minutes worth of oxygen. 

The Republic of China, as Taiwan is formally known, marks its foundation each year on Oct. 10, an annual celebration known as Double-10 Day that traces back to the end of the Chinese empire and the establishment of the first Chinese republic on the mainland in 1912. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...