University of South Carolina

USC Taiwan Conference turns 20

By Peggy Binette,, 803-777-7704

For 20 years the nation’s top scholars on Taiwan converge at the University of South Carolina each September to discuss the latest developments in Taiwan-China relations as well as topics about the culture, history and politics of the island nation formally known as the Republic of China.

This year’s event was held Sept. 8 – 9. Among the presenters was Vincent Wang, a political science professor at the University of Richmond who has attended the conference since 1993.

“It’s a great conference because it has such a clear focus,” Wang said. “It is a USC treasure. I cannot think of a university that has had a conference devoted to Taiwan for so long.”

Wang’s presentation addressed whether a peace accord between Taiwan and China is feasible. He said the absence of hostility in recent years under the leadership of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Hu Jintao, is an important step toward developing an affinity and close identity, which he said “isn’t there yet. It could evolve in many ways. Both sides have a desire to reach an agreement.”

Wang said people should pay close attention to China’s election next month, with Xi Jinping expected to succeed Hu.

“2013- 2014 will be critical years. The question is what will Xi do? Chinese leadership in general are very satisfied with current trends and believe that time is on their side. Taiwan will be busy getting reading for the 2016 presidential election.”

In addition to scholars, the conference draws USC alumni and others from South Carolina’s Taiwanese community. For them it’s a chance to be informed about developments in their home country and rekindle friendships.

More than 800 students from Taiwan have graduated from USC since 1984, a result of the university’s strength in Asian studies and South Carolina’s sister-state relationship with Taiwan.

Among those attending this year were USC alumni Jimmy and Jane Chao who came to South Carolina and USC in 1981 as newlyweds in pursuit of graduate education.

“I was looking for a good education and a good scholarship, and a classmate told me about USC,” said Jimmy Chao, who earned his master’s degree in civil engineering in 1983. “I feel a great deal of loyalty to my alma mater. They gave me the opportunity.”

Chao, president of the Columbia engineering firm Chao and Associates, said he and his wife, who earned a master’s degree in accounting in 1986, believe in giving back.

In 1994 they established the Chao Engineering Scholarship, a need-based scholarship for undergraduate engineering students. Their twin daughters, Nicole and Jessica, followed their parents lead, graduating from USC’s Honors College in May 2011 with degrees in international business.

Chao said USC’s Taiwan Conference is critically important to helping people understand the delicate balance between Taiwan and China.

“China is developing and playing a bigger role in the political and economic arena. Taiwan provides a balance of power. It is very western in its belief and democracy,” Chao said. “Under Ma, young leaders seem more realistic about Taiwan and China’s relationship.”

Lin Ko attends the conference each year to hear different perspectives on the politics, history and culture of Taiwan.

Ko, a branch manager for the Richland County Public Library, is a news correspondent for the World Journal, Taiwan's most popular newspaper in the U.S. and Asia.

“I like attending the conference. I get updated on the situation between China and Taiwan and learn the latest about issues. In Taiwan there is an inside point of view. It is valuable to have different points of view, and this conference provides that chance to learn how others in foreign countries see us,” said Ko, who earned her master’s in librarianship at USC in 1992.

Ko came to South Carolina in 1984 with her husband, Shun Ko, who was pursuing a doctorate at USC. “I always leave feeling informed. It’s very important to me. The interaction between the scholars here and in Taiwan is very important,” said Ko, who has pioneered many of the library’s cultural programs in past 22 years.

The conference, which focused this year on security, cross-strait relations and global trade partnerships, was established in 1992 by Richard L. Walker, former U.S. ambassador to Korea and founder of the College of Arts and Sciences' Walker Institute for International and Area Studies in 1961. It is the longest lasting and most renowned Taiwan-centered conference in the United States.

USC partners with the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) to host the annual event. Last December USC signed a MOU that solidified its partnership with TECO, making the university’s Asian Studies Program an affiliate of the Taiwan Academy, an educational and cultural initiative launched by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011.

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Posted: 09/13/12 @ 2:00 PM | Updated: 09/25/12 @ 10:29 AM | Permalink