Taiwan schools, Purdue sign agreements to collaborate on tech

IBJ 06.20.2023 9 min read
Taiwan schools, Purdue sign agreements to collaborate on tech

A delegation of academic and diplomatic leaders from Taiwan met with Purdue University officials on Thursday as part of a half-day symposium focused on strengthening ties between the two—particularly in areas of education and economic development.

Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative to the U.S., participated in a day-long visit to West Lafayette, along with leaders from National Chengchi University and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, who signed memorandums of understanding to expand academic collaboration between their schools and Purdue.

The visit included a discussion with Keith Krach, co-founder and chairman of the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy and the institute’s CEO Michelle Guida, along with Hsiao, and Chi-hung Lin, president of National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. Guida also hosted a forum with U.S. and Taiwan private sector leaders.

At the conclusion of programming, IBJ sat down with Krach, Hsiao and Lin to discuss the new partnership between Purdue and the Taiwanese universities. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

What’s bringing Taiwan to the table with Purdue and the state of Indiana?

Hsiao: The past few years have highlighted the importance of having stable, reliable and trusted supply chains and the roles that both Taiwan and the United States can play in fostering prosperity. All of this is an important part of Taiwan’s shared interests with the United States. I often talk about shared values and shared interests—and those are in freedom and democracy, in prosperity and security for our peoples.

Governor [Eric] Holcomb was actually the first governor to visit Taiwan after the COVID 19 pandemic, which really put a suspension on a lot of interpersonal travel and affected academic exchanges, students, and everything across the board. But the pandemic also highlighted the importance of cooperation and supply chains. We appreciate the governor’s commitment to working with Taiwan in in terms of advancing our shared prosperity, but also his commitment to supporting education cooperation, and that’s why I’m here at Purdue today.

I’m also here to witness Dr. Lin as representing National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, through a memorandum of understanding cooperation with Purdue University and the Krach Institute.

I first got to know Undersecretary Krach while he was at the State Department [from 2019 to 2021] when I first arrived, and he’s been instrumental in supporting a number of economic and science partnerships between Taiwan and the United States. His efforts to create a fusion between technology and diplomacy is very meaningful. We often see these as different disciplines but ultimately, diplomacy is about cross-border, cross-cultural, cross-societal cooperation. And when you bring technology into the picture, it makes Taiwan and the US force multipliers. So I’m really just glad to be here at Purdue University to see all of this action taking place and to support these efforts on behalf of our government.

How integral are these MOUs for Taiwan’s universities?

Lin: Purdue has a long history of collaboration with Taiwan, and a variety of Taiwan universities. So, we think due to … our mutual interests in semiconductors and micro electronics, we can take this opportunity to really expand the level of collaboration not just at a department level, but also at the university level. I’d never been to the Midwest before three months ago, but since then I’ve visited here at least three times, and now we have our MOU signed. With that, we have an exchange student program, a dual degree program, as well as the co-development of online courses—especially those in the semiconductor program. We hope to have this [agreement] settled by the end of this year.

Why do you see Taiwan as such an important asset to the United States and to Purdue—what does it offer the university, and what does the university have to offer Taiwan?

Krach: Taiwan is the linchpin of democracy and it’s a role model for freedom, not just in Asia but around the world. They’re a great friend. They’re a great partner. To the Chinese Communist Party, Taiwan represents dispelling this myth that Chinese culture cannot live in a democracy, and [Chinese President Xi Jinping] wants to take that away. So the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy—created by Purdue President Mung Chiang and myself—has rapidly become the most preeminent global authority on tech diplomacy. With that leadership comes responsibility. And that’s why we’re really taking the lead in terms of what we’re doing with Taiwan through our center at Purdue, because Taiwan’s freedom is essential for the rest of the world in this epic struggle between freedom and authoritarianism.

How challenging is it to be under the eye of China at all times, particularly when it comes to things as critical as semiconductors and other advancements in technology, given Taiwan’s major roles in those areas?

Hsiao: The geopolitical circumstances have created tremendous, enormous pressure on the people of Taiwan. But I feel strongly that the Taiwanese people have also become more resilient and stronger under such pressure. We’ve learned to be very pragmatic, to be creative. When we run against walls, or pressures, or restrictions we need to think about creative solutions to get around that. We, the Taiwanese people, like American people are very diligent, and we cherish our freedom, which is what fosters an environment for creativity and innovation—and therefore engineering our economy. It has taken decades for Taiwan to build a [semiconductor] industry with the ecosystem that’s made Taiwan the most important center for manufacturing in the chip industry. And we will remain indispensable and irreplaceable for some time, as a leader in this industry.

But at the same time, we acknowledge that we have a responsibility to build reliable and sustainable supply chains on a global level. So, the recruitment of talent, training, educating, fostering and expanding on that ecosystem is an important part of the sustainability of our own economy and our industry. And that’s why we’re working with important institutions like Purdue University. Many Taiwanese are also beneficiaries of good American education, and now we are in a position to also contribute to a two-way, reciprocal relationship to advancing prosperity. And this is certainly a key area of global interest, but there are also many other areas where we are also looking at opportunities for cooperation.

Some relationships with companies in the semiconductor sector have already been established here in Indiana, including some at Purdue. What do you make of the state’s efforts so far, and what more can be done to help propel Indiana to the status of a leader?

Hsiao: Sen. Todd Young was one of the key initiators of the concept that eventually became the CHIPS act; it went through some evolutions before it eventually passed … but I think Indiana has certainly had policy momentum, in taking the lead in this particular area. Indiana has also attracted one of the leading Taiwanese chip designer companies called MediaTek, and they’ve committed to working with the state of Indiana and Purdue University in cultivating more talented engineers in this particular area of manufacturing.

From Taiwan’s perspective, there are unique obstacles that we continue to work with state governments on, including, tax policies, trade agreements and having reciprocal avoidance of double taxation. These are agreements that will make [it easier for] investments from Taiwanese companies in the United States to allow our businesses to compete on fair ground.  We’re not asking for special treatment, but we want to be treated fairly.

I think the renewed interest in manufacturing in the United States, our interest in expanding, having that global footprint with Taiwanese companies’ presence around the world, makes this a very important transitional time, where these policies and incentives will be very important. We’re not the business people making investment decisions, but we need to create the policy environment that attracts the expansion of business and investment. And we appreciate that Governor Holcomb made that first step by visiting Taiwan and meeting with not just businesses but the academic community, and … the policy community. Your elected leaders are legislating in a way that fosters an ecosystem, to make it attractive for business, and that’s what we need to continue to work on together.  The tax agreement is actually more of a federal-level issue, but once we resolve that it will have significant benefits across the board for states that have this unique technology and scientific relationship with Taiwan.

Lin: On the manufacturing side, I think people are starting to realize that the most essential component for successful manufacturing of chips is not only electricity, water, capital equipment, money, but rather that of human resources. That’s where academic collaborations like ours comes into place. If we can use the diverse resources here and this new hybrid education program, and put that all together, we can train very experienced workers in a short period of time. My recommendation to the state of Indiana is to cultivate those [educational] relationships further and build up training programs here … so this will be a hub.

How does Taiwan’s success in technological areas like microelectronics, paired with the continued growth of academic partnerships with Purdue, propel Taiwan forward?

Hsiao: In the context of the collaboration with Purdue University, I think cherishing that academic freedom also creates an environment where students know they have the freedom of expression, where students can travel and study in another country and another university—have these exchange programs, knowing that we share values.

But there are significant pressures that we have to face. But I think all the tragedies of history show us that we all have a global stake in maintaining stability and maintaining peace. Industry has a stake, especially in Taiwan’s ability [to do that]. The fact that Taiwan produces some of the key nodes critical to global supply chains, but also the fact that Taiwan’s vicinity encompasses 50% of global maritime commerce—any disruption of that will have global consequences. And so I think we have a message that we continue to convey … around the world is that a peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait will continue to contribute to trusted supply chains and trusted technology around the world, and also to prosperity.

Where do you hope the relationship between Purdue and Taiwan are in 10 years time?

Krach: My hope is that Taiwan looks at the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy as the catalyst … for strengthening Taiwan’s prosperity and strengthening their sovereignty by building a network of companies, countries leaders and institutions around the world, and really create that freedom movement. Of course [I hope] Taiwan is free and and will be forever.