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Trade war

Top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan stresses supply chain cooperation

Head of de facto embassy repeats 'rock solid' support amid China tensions

Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, says the U.S. recognizes the critical role that Taiwan plays in global supply chains.

TAIPEI -- The U.S. will work closely with Taiwan to build "resilient" and "safe" supply chains, Washington's top diplomat in Taipei said on Friday, as she also sought to ease concerns over a recent U.S. request for the island's chipmakers to hand over sensitive data.

Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan -- Washington's de facto embassy on the self-governed island -- said the Biden administration recognizes the vital role that Taiwan plays in global supply chains, especially in critical technologies like semiconductors.

"We will continue to work together to ensure that supply chains remain safe and secure," Oudkirk told a press conference at the AIT.

She added, however, that building a more resilient supply chain will mean increasing the manufacture of some products on American soil and in other countries.

"We will be working more closely with our trusted friends and partners so that our supply chains can't be used against us as leverage," she said.

Her remarks come amid a severe global shortage of chips and other components. To help address the shortages, the U.S. Commerce Department last month requested global chipmakers to divulge information on their procurement plans, clients and other business matters, a move that caused alarm among industry players.

Oudkirk sought to ease such concerns, saying she has met with local industry leaders and government officials to explain the reason for the request, which, she stressed is voluntary. The Commerce Department, she added, "has excellent safeguards on proprietary information."

With tensions between Beijing and Taipei rising, the new AIT head reiterated President Joe Biden's comments this week that the U.S. has a "rock solid" commitment to the island. "The United States will continue to support Taiwan, as it resists efforts to constrain its appropriate participation on the world stage, including in international organizations," she said.

"We are going to continue to advance global and regional goals of the Biden administration, including countering malign [China] influence, recovering from the devastating impacts of the pandemic and addressing the threat of climate change," she continued. "Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region."

This is Oudkirk's first news conference since she arrived in July to succeed previous AIT Director W. Brent Christensen.

Both the current and previous U.S. administrations have said Taiwan plays a crucial role in America's efforts to foster supply chain diversification amid the U.S.-China trade war. The island is home to the world's most advanced semiconductor production technology and has a complete supply chain for chips, which are the brains of all electronics, from smartphones and game consoles to space and military tech.

The AIT has forged closer relations with tech suppliers on the island and helped facilitate key investments by Taiwanese companies in the U.S., including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.'s $12 billion advanced chip facility in Arizona -- the first U.S. investment by the world's top contract chipmaker in 20 years.

TSMC founder Morris Chang, however, has more than once publicly questioned the call by major economies to bring semiconductor production onshore. He recently singled out U.S. ambitions as being unfeasible. Since Biden took office in 2021, the administration and its top officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, have repeatedly flagged the concentration of semiconductor manufacturing in Taiwan and Asia as a key risk to U.S. national security and warned any disruption here could cause major disruption to the global tech supply chain.

Oudkirk has been in the U.S. Foreign Service for 30 years and joined the Bureau of East Asian & Pacific Affairs as U.S. senior official for APEC and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific in 2019. Her prior public service experience overseas includes consular assignments at AIT in Taipei, the American embassy in Dublin, as well as two assignments in Turkey as trade officer in Ankara and deputy principal officer in Istanbul.

Relations between Washington and Taipei began warming when China-skeptic Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016 and have rapidly become closer amid the intensified trade war. In addition to calling Taiwan one of its loyal allies in helping the U.S. cut production dependence on China, Washington has also been championing the island on the international stage. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently called on United Nations members to support the participation of Taiwan in the U.N., where the island had a seat until 1971.

On the other hand, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Thursday said that her engagement with China is aimed at lowering trade tensions between the two countries. Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping also plan to meet virtually before the end of the year.

Relations between China and Taiwan, meanwhile, have significantly deteriorated since 2016 and have declined even more sharply since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Beijing views the democratically ruled island as part of its territory and has not ruled out bringing it under control by force. China sent more than 150 military jets to Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone in a new daily record of incursions earlier this month, sparking concerns over military tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

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