At this year’s (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show, the Taiwanese orchid industry once again met with renowned horticulturalist HRH Queen Elizabeth II on her official visit to the Taiwan pavilion. Casting an approving eye over the 2,000 plus orchids arranged to resemble a church, The Queen had no hesitation in giving the exhibit her royal seal of approval.
The Queen’s recognition is a ringing endorsement of Taiwan’s gardening industry and affirms the healthy state of relations between Taiwan and the UK. These days, Taipei-London ties are best described as productive and rewarding, with ongoing bilateral discussions and opportunities enhancing the overall relationship.
Since taking up this position in 2008, I have worked tirelessly to develop all facets of Taiwan-UK ties. These efforts have paid handsome dividends in terms of bolstering cultural, educational, tourism and trade exchanges. Highlights include Taiwan’s 2009 inclusion in the UK Visa Waiver Programme and the launch of direct flights between Taipei and London last March.
On 3 March 2009, Taiwan was given the go-ahead for the British government’s Visa Waiver Programme. This decision was based on the UK Border Agency’s worldwide review of visa regimes for 2007 to 2008, assessing Taiwan as a low-risk country for immigration violations.
The UK government’s move illustrates its support for Taiwan’s introduction of biometric passports; it is a key measure in the battle to crack down on passport fraud and stamp out human trafficking. During the first three months following Taiwan’s inclusion in the programme, the number of ROC citizens travelling to the UK jumped nearly 40 per cent and is continuing to grow.
As other major Western nations extend visa-waiver privileges to ROC citizens, I believe Britain’s goodwill gesture is certain to assist in Taiwan’s cause in this regard. The launch of direct flights marks a new era in air links between Taiwan and the UK. Operated by Taoyuan headquartered China Airlines Co Ltd, this non-stop flight is making significant headway in strengthening business and tourism links between the two nations.
However, Taiwan’s progress in diversifying its economy and managing the challenges presented by an uncertain global climate is equally important. I believe that doing business with Taiwan makes perfect sense for UK firms
looking to broaden their horizons.
The Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is an important factor when it comes to attracting British investors to Taiwan. We urge UK companies to capitalise on Taiwan’s advantages in accessing the regional and mainland Chinese markets. The UK government should also investigate the feasibility of entering into a trade cooperation agreement with Taiwan.
Taiwan has enjoyed strong trade ties with the UK since1998 when UK Trade & Investment ranked the nation among Britain’s top 14 best prospect export markets. Last year, bilateral trade was US$5.29 billion, with the Unranked as Taiwan’s eighteenth largest trading partner globally, and third largest in Europe.
A total of 70 per cent of Taiwan’s investment in Europe, including electrical machinery, financial services and air and marine transportation is concentrated in the UK. Moreover, top Taiwanese firms such as Evergreen Marine Corp, D-Link Corp, HTC Corp and Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp, have selected Britain as their European headquarters.
But Taiwan is more than just a country with serious economic clout. In the absence of formal diplomatic relations, bilateral cultural exchanges have moved mountains in bridging this gap, putting the country’s name on the tip of the tongues of culture vultures worldwide.
The successful orchid promotions at the Chelsea Flower Show, golfer Yani Tseng’s victory at The British Open, tennis player Lu Yen-hsun’s quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon and designer Chen Shao-yen being named as one of the six most promising designers for 2010 by AnOther magazine are all stunning achievements for Taiwan.
Prestigious Taiwanese arts troupes such as Cloud Gate, Contemporary Legend Theatre and Ming Hwa Yuan have all travelled to the UK and offered British audiences a unique insight into the island’s creative scene.
This cultural exchange is reciprocal, with ancient Greek treasures from The British Museum, musical master pieces by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Ballet’s tour of Giselle, all having been well-received in Taiwan.
With ROC government policies laying the foundation for closer cooperation between the two sides, further progress can be expected in the near future. The Taiwan-UK relationship is strong and will grow even stronger in the days ahead; a positive state of affairs that is sure to continue for the benefit of both nations.