Vice President-elect William Lai became a hot property during his stay in the United States in February. He visited the country in the capacity of a private citizen, but was invited by Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. He also spoke at a roundtable on the same topic at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Kennedy Caucus Room. The latter event was attended by an audience of 300 from more than 20 like-minded countries. These events represent an unprecedented success achieved by Vice President-elect Lai.
The media in Taiwan noticed that Lai is succeeding in doing what Taiwan has not done before. However, they did not notice that Lai broke ground for what Taiwan and the U.S. might be able to do in the future. His solo trip ends a 40-year ban and allows Taiwan-U.S. relations to move forward.
The new model, the new situation, and even more so the new version of “maintaining the status quo,” were all completed within one week. The breeze of history came blowing, and the vice president-elect spread his wings like a butterfly.
Lai used the force of private-public partnership masterfully. He also found the right timing, as the period between his election on Jan. 11 and his swearing-in on May 20 is the best time for an overseas visit.
At the same time, he also grasped Taiwan’s new role at the center of the U.S.-Taiwanese Indo-Pacific cooperation framework and of international religious freedom. In his English-language speech, Lai said 2020 would be a year of action for Taiwan, with the country serving as a beacon of human rights and humanitarianism. From the Free Tibet movement to the protests in Hong Kong, the country would shoulder its responsibility to aid the international community.
Even more concretely, he guaranteed that as the quality of Taiwan’s healthcare is excellent, it can cooperate with the U.S. in international health services. He noted that many victims of repression had seen their basic right to healthcare taken away and that Taiwan’s religious charity groups can help provide this kind of foreign aid. In addition, many large-scale medical centers and clinics in Taiwan have gained significant experience in sending healthcare teams overseas these past few years to provide assistance to developing countries. Lai proposed to the U.S. State Department that under the promotion of the Indo-Pacific cooperation framework and of international religious freedom, Taiwan could make contributions to the whole world in the field of international healthcare services.
During Lai's visit, Senator John Cornyn of Texas spontaneously proposed that Taiwan should join the World Health Organization and that Taiwan and the U.S. should promote virus prevention together. He shared Lai’s view of the coronavirus situation, and, as a long-standing supporter of Taiwan who has never visited the country, said he accepted Lai’s invitation for a trip at an appropriate time.
At the seminar hosted by Ambassador Brownback, Lai mentioned the fact that Radio Taiwan International’s (RTI) shortwave and medium wave cover all of China. As the communist country persecutes Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims, it is possible to broadcast different types of information according to each embattled group's needs. Lai noted that the the powerful broadcasting platform founded in the last century, which was the result of U.S.-Taiwan cooperation, could bear fruit today. When Ambassador Brownback visited Taiwan in March last year, he was invited to RTI for a talk that was broadcast to China and completely agreed with the innovative proposal for a “free church in the air.”
During last year’s visit, the ambassador quoted the words of persecuted Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church Pastor Wang Yi that the Chinese Communist Party’s war on religion is bound to fail, as the communists can imprison people, but not the soul of man. William Lai understands the new role of RTI as a news platform for international religious freedom.
The William Lai whirlwind is charming Washington. Low-profile, realistic, seizing every inch: theses are its traits. Completely prepared, he used the simplest of language, effectively persuading his dialogue partners, no matter whether in Congress, the State Department, the White House, think tanks, or elsewhere. In every corner of Washington, he left evidence of Taiwan’s efforts and opened up a door to getting to know the island nation all over again.