The mayor of Taiwan’s capital is set to visit Atlanta this week, seeking to underscore four decades of municipal collaborations while striking up new business ties.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, an independent who narrowly won re-election in 2018 but is seen as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, is to make a less-than-24-hour stop in Atlanta what he has reportedly called a four-city “introductory tour” to the U.S.
Mr. Ko will participate in a reception Wednesday that will simultaneously mark the 40th anniversaries of Taipei’s sister-city ties with Atlanta, the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act and the opening of the Center for Puppetry Arts, which is hosting the event, along with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta.
On Thursday he and a broader delegation will attend the board meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the signing of an agreement between the chamber and the Importers and Exporters Association of Taipei.
Later that day Mr. Ko is scheduled to meet with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Mr. Ko touches down in Atlanta after visits to New York and Washington, where it’s unclear what type of reception he will receive, given the outspoken mayor’s previous statements in Bloomberg calling Taiwan a ““just a product on a shelf” ” in the U.S. trade war with China. Some organizations have accused Mr. Ko of being too cozy with the mainland, based his assertion that both sides of the Taiwan straits are “one family.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party leadership has seized on President Donald Trump’s willingness to rock the boat with mainland China, which considers Taiwan a wayward province.
Since Mr. Trump took office, the U.S. has made it easier for Taiwanese leaders to travel here on official visits, opened a new de facto embassy in Taipei and continued with arms sales over Chinese objections. China’s ambassador to the U.S. said recently in Atlanta that the resolution on trade issues could potentially be tied to U.S. actions on Taiwan.
DPP President Tsai Ing-wen has challenged China on multiple fronts, refusing to rule out eventual independence and accusing China of poaching Taiwanese allies. She has also encouraged Taiwanese companies to move out of China and sought to deepen economic ties with Southeast Asia.
Mr. Ko will have an entourage of journalists and city officials in tow. He has deftly used city-to-city ties to build an international platform in the past, including by hosting an annual forum with Shanghai.
Vincent Liu, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta, has also focused on cultural ties to avoid thornier political issues as cross-strait tensions in recent years.
In Georgia, there is an ample platform to do so, given that three cities maintain sister-city ties with Taiwan’s three most populous cities. Beyond Atlanta and Taipei, Macon and Kaohsiung are linked, as are Columbus and Taichung. As part of the ongoing sister-city celebrations, Mr. Liu’s office will host three performances from Taipei puppet master Chen Hsi-Huang in June, and the Taipei Symphony Orchestra will play in Atlanta in November.
Mr. Liu told Global Atlanta during a one-on-one interview at the law firm of Miller & Martin PLLC in September that he will promote cultural collaborations that can also lead to trade ties, such as the annual Taste of Taiwan gala. The event aims to promote Taiwan’s culinary delights while also encouraging agricultural collaboration. In 2018, Taiwan was the ninth largest buyer of U.S. farm goods — accounting for $3.9 billion in sales, a yearly increase of 15 percent.
He added at the time that the trade war between the U.S. and China, just heating up at the time, would hurt all involved.
“We embrace the spirit or the virtue of multilateralism, and we (have) aspirations for the rule of law, not only politically but also in international trade,” he said. “We don’t want to see the trade war, because the trade war gives no winner. Everybody loses from a war, but a diplomat’s job should be preventing all kinds of moves that affect your country unfavorably.”
He added that Taiwan would continue to focus on innovation in key sectors like smart machinery, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, clean energy, defense, circular economy (recycling and environmentally friendly products) and new agriculture.
Many in Georgia have fond memories of relations with Taiwan before then-President Jimmy Carter, another Georgian, decided to normalize ties with mainland China in 1979. These bonds of friendship helped Atlanta benefit from an influx of highly educated Taiwanese who set up companies that maintain links to the island today. Georgia exported $544 million worth of goods to Taiwan in 2018. Taiwan is the No. 11 trading partner with the U.S. and a key supplier of electronics and components.