Taiwan-UK Relations

1.General Introduction

In 1950, the UK switched its recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Despite this diplomatic change, the UK maintained the British Consulate in Tamsui, Taipei, and through it continued to conduct consular and trade-related activities. In March 1972, the UK and PRC upgraded diplomatic relations to the ambassadorial level and although the British Consulate was subsequently closed, the British government retained the consulate building until June 1980, when it was returned to the ROC government. The ROC government’s office in the UK was established in September 1963 under the name of the ‘Free Chinese Centre’ (FCC); and it retained this title until 15 April 1992, when it was renamed the ‘Taipei Representative Office in the UK’. Later on, the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, Edinburgh Office was established in 1998.

In February 1976, the UK, seeking to promote its economic interests in Taiwan, established the Anglo-Taiwan Trade Committee in Taipei, which later set up a Visa Handling Unit in June 1989. The Anglo-Taiwan Trade Committee and the UK Education Centre later merged in October 1993 to become the British Trade and Cultural Office (BTCO). The BTCO then changed its name to British Office Taipei (BOT) on 26 May 2015 to better reflect the full scope of its work.

Taiwan is dedicated to the promotion of Taiwan-UK bilateral relations, which has seen significant growth in recent years. 28 agreements and MoUs have been concluded in such areas as health, intellectual properties, youth exchanges, aviation, education, culture, avoidance of double taxation, etc. Taiwan and the UK have also established several regular bilateral dialogues, including the annual Taiwan-UK Trade Talks as well as annual forums on Renewable Energy, Railway, Smart City and Agriculture.

Taiwan also actively builds connections with and maintains strong support from the UK Parliament. The British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group has a 140-strong membership base, making it among the largest groups of its kind within the UK Parliament. The current Co-Chairs are Bob Stewart MP and Deputy Lord Speaker of the House of Lords Lord Rogan. In October 2014, then Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza became the first ever Lord Speaker to visit Taiwan, symbolising the positive development of bilateral relations between both countries. In July 2018, the visit of Taiwan’s President of the Legislative Yuan Su Jia-chyuan marked the most important event for Taiwan-UK parliamentary exchanges in recent years. During his visit, President Su met with the Lord Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means (most senior deputy speaker of House of Commons), Co-Chairs of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group and other prominent parliamentarians.

On 3 March 2009, Taiwan was green lighted for the British government’s visa-waiver programme. This decision was based on the UK Border Agency’s review of visa regimes around the world, which deemed Taiwan as a low risk country. Taiwan’s inclusion in the programme has seen the number of ROC passport holders visiting the UK increase significantly. During the first year of Taiwan’s inclusion in 2009, the number rose to 54,200 from 26,100 in 2008. Thereafter, the number has continued to increase each year, with statistics indicating that 127,000 ROC citizens visited the UK in 2019. However, statistics for 2020 is yet available.

On 1 January 2012, the Taiwan-UK Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) was launched. The scheme provides 1,000 visas to Taiwanese youths between the ages of 18 and 30 with the opportunity to visit Taiwan each year.

Participants of the YMS are able to conduct full or part-time work, carry out voluntary activities, or study in their target countries to gain insight into the respective cultures, societies and lifestyles of the UK and Taiwan.

In 2016, the UK government announced the opening of the Registered Traveller Service to Taiwan passport holders, a scheme which has improved convenience for ROC citizens who visit the UK on a frequent basis.


2.Trade and Investment

In 2020, the total bilateral trade between the UK and Taiwan amounted to US$5.92 billion. Taiwan’s exports to the UK stood at US$4.25 billion, while Taiwan’s imports from the UK were valued at US$1.67 billion. The UK ranks as Taiwan’s 3rd largest trading partner in Europe, while Taiwan is the UK’s 9th largest trading partner in Asia.

Taiwan’s exports to the UK mainly consisted of radio navigational aid apparatus, solid-state non-volatile storage devices, parts and accessories of the machines of heading 84.71, bicycles, telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks, other screws and bolts, portable automatic data processing machines, other parts and accessories of vehicles of headings 87.11 to 87.13, articles and equipment for general physical exercise, gymnastics or athletics and other hand tools. The UK’s exports to Taiwan consisted mainly of whisky, spacecraft (including satellites) and suborbital and spacecraft launch vehicles, other medicaments, sedan (of a cylinder capacity exceeding 3,000 cc), machines and apparatus for the manufacture of semiconductor devices or of electronic integrated circuits, sedan (of a cylinder capacity exceeding 1,500 cc but not exceeding 3,000 cc), anti-cancer preparations and other machinery of heading 84.79.

In October 2020, Taiwan and the UK held the 23rd round of bilateral trade talks, jointly chaired by Taiwanese Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chern-Chyi Chen and UK Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands, which is one of the most important economic and trade dialogues for both sides.

The UK is one of the most popular investment destinations in Europe for Taiwanese companies. According to statistics from the Investment Commission, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taiwanese companies have invested in 220 projects in the UK, mainly in the ICT, financial services and transportation industries as of 2020.

Meanwhile, British companies have invested in a total of 1,212 projects in Taiwan, comprised mainly of professional and technical services, wholesale and retail, information and communications, finance and insurance industries as of 2019. However, as offshore wind power is one of our most important energy and infrastructure policies in recent years, it has become an emerging topic for UK investment in Taiwan.


3.Financial Relations

On 16 January 2007, the ROC Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which split into the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), to further strengthen cooperation between the two sides. The FSC has continuously maintained close cooperation with both the FCA and PRA.

As of February 2021, five Taiwan commercial banks operate branches in London, namely, the Bank of Taiwan, Hua Nan Bank, Chang Hwa Bank, First Bank and Mega International Bank. In addition, Taiwan’s SinoPac Securities has set up its European subsidiary in London, whilst British banks such as Standard Chartered and HSBC have both established branches and subsidiaries in Taiwan. Furthermore, three British financial groups, including Prudential, Schroders and Standard Life Aberdeen, have opened one insurance subsidiary and three asset management subsidiaries in Taiwan.


4.Education Relations

Taiwan and the UK signed a joint ‘Agreement on Education and Culture’ on 25 September 2001. A ‘Memorandum on Collaboration in Education’ was also concluded on 4 November 2005, renewed on 4 November 2011 and again on 7 August 2017. In the fields of English and Mandarin language learning, higher education, school-level education and school partnerships, cooperation and exchange are actively promoted. On 20 September 2019, the inaugural UK-Taiwan Higher Education Forum took place at the Universities UK headquarters in London. The Forum, which was co-organised by Universities UK International, FICHET and the Taipei Representative Office in the UK Education Division, was attended by a delegation of senior representatives from 17 universities in Taiwan and 30 universities around the UK. It was the largest ever higher education delegation from Taiwan to travel to the UK. Overall, the UK-Taiwan Higher Education Forum attracted almost 100 participants and laid the foundations for bilateral educational exchanges in the future.

In 2018/19, the number of Taiwanese students formally enrolled in UK universities totalled 4,045. According to official figures, the UK is the fourth most popular destination for Taiwanese students studying abroad, behind only the US, Australia and Japan.

In terms of higher education exchanges, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education and the Centre of Taiwan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, signed a memorandum for a ‘Senior Teaching Fellow in Taiwan Studies’ to fund Taiwan-related research and teaching at SOAS. Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has funded a Mandarin teaching project at the University of Cambridge for over twenty years and, in May 2020, further expanded the cooperation to include a new project on Taiwan Studies by signing an 'Agreement for the Funding of a Taiwan Studies Programme'.

Moreover, each year, the Ministry of Education grants Taiwan Scholarships and Huayu Enrichment Scholarships to enable UK students to undertake degree programmes or study Mandarin in Taiwan. Collaborative bilateral educational exchanges of this kind are very popular. In 2019, 59 British students attained Taiwan Scholarships or Huayu Enrichment Scholarships.

In 2020, due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, the UK-Taiwan Higher Education Forum was held online from the 7th to the 9th December. A total of 75 Taiwanese universities and 50 UK universities were represented, with over 200 individual participants.

In October 2020, the Ministry of Education cooperated with the University of Cambridge to help Mandarin language students fulfill their year abroad requirement in Taiwan.


5.Cultural Relations

Taiwan and the UK enjoy a close partnership as well as frequent and mutually beneficial exchanges in the fields of art and culture. Taiwan continues to be a key destination for renowned UK-based artists and organisations. For example, in the past year, internationally acclaimed choreographers Hofesh Shecter and Akram Khan have been invited to perform at some of Taiwan’s most prestigious venues. In 2019, the British Council entered into a collaborative partnership with Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Foundation to launch ‘Connections through Culture’, a bilateral grants programme which has the aim of nurturing long-lasting cooperation and relationships between both countries through meaningful cultural exchange.

The UK has hosted many of Taiwan’s top artists and professionals from the cultural sector – who seek to present the island nation’s best cultural content to the British public. In recent years, the most important events that we’ve participated in and organisations we’ve partnered with comprise a wide range of fields, including visual art, theatre, pop music, literature, film, architecture and design, to hold performances and exhibitions in the UK. Taiwanese artists and cultural events can be found at some of the UK’s most iconic cultural institutions and festivals, including the Hayward Gallery at Southbank, Liverpool Biennial, King’s College London, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London Craft Week, London East Asia Film Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival and Glastonbury Festival. In addition to these exchanges, the quality and calibre of Taiwanese cultural contents have been widely recognised by British audiences and critics. Taiwanese author Wu Ming-yi, for example, has had his book, "The Stolen Bicycle" long-listed in the Man Booker International Prize in 2018, whilst Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan is named the Outstanding Company at the 19th National Dance Awards in 2019.

Scotland has also become an important hub for Taiwanese culture. 2020 also marked the seventh consecutive year of Taiwan’s participation in the globally renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In addition to its success in box office sales, “Taiwan Season” has been praised in major publications including The Guardian, The Times and The Scotsman, often rated five stars for the stunning performing arts that it exhibits. It took place online due to the pandemic this year, with a programme of artist interviews and webinars introducing Taiwan’s cultural scene to UK and international audiences. With the theme of “Connecting with Taiwan”, this programme is recognized by the Festival’s organisers with the Infallibles Award for ‘National Presence’.


6.Science and Technology collaboration

Since 1999, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST, known previously as the National Science Council or ‘NSC’) has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with the Royal Society, British Academy, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council. Under these MoUs, at least 40 cooperative projects per year are sponsored to support high-level official visits, academic exchanges, joint research, bilateral workshops, etc.

The NSC became the MOST in March 2014, and continued to work closely with the UK government, academic institutions and science industry in order to broaden the collaborative platform and bring about benefits for both the UK and Taiwan communities in science and innovation.

Recent highlights include the UK visit of a delegation composed of university presidents and young talents, led by the Taiwan Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Liang Gee Chen, in March and April 2019. During the visit, Minister Chen hosted a recruitment event with more than 300 young talents in attendance, visited the Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the President of the Royal Society, served as a witness in an evidence hearing at the invitation of the UK Parliament Education Select Committee to share Taiwan’s experience, and was interviewed by BBC News Chinese, demonstrating even stronger bilateral cooperation in science and innovation between Taiwan and the UK.


7.Public health collaboration

Taiwan and UK have in recent years established regular exchange and collaboration on topics concerning public health. Since the COVID-19 outbreak escalated rapidly in Europe in March 2020, Taiwan has been keen to provide help, for example by donating a total of 2 million medical face masks to the UK government. The COVID-19 task forces on both sides also have been sharing their expertise and experience on several occasions.

Taiwan’s success story in combating COVID-19 is highly valued by the UK government as well as by its Parliament. Taiwan’s Former Vice President Chen Chien-jen and Digital Minister Audrey Tang were invited to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee and the House of Lords Public Services Committee respectively in June and September 2020, to share Taiwan’s experience in fighting the virus. Moreover, the UK’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, were invited to Taiwan’s Ketagalan Forum in September 2020 to share the UK’s views on global health security in a post COVID-19 era. In his speech he also expressed appreciation for Taiwan’s help to the UK. In September 2020, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Ministers Lord Ahmad and Nigel Adams both made it clear on separate occasions that the UK hopes Taiwan is allowed to attend the World Health Assembly as an observer, and that Taiwan’s expertise and experience in combating COVID-19 shows it can make a valuable contribution to the world.