Taiwan's Minister of Science and Technology, Tsung-tsong Wu: “More businesses than ever want to deal only with democracies”

  • 2021-11-10
  • Linas Jegelevicius

Perhaps no other country has shown as much heart to Taiwan, an island just 180 kilometres away from mainland China, as Lithuania, a Baltic state that broke away from the Soviet Union in 1990.

Unlike many other countries that host Taipei missions, Lithuania is set to make a stride further and open Taiwan’s representation in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius at the end of the year. Meanwhile, Lithuania looks forward to opening its representation in Taipei in early 2022. The countries’ commitments have been reaffirmed in talks of a high-ranking Taiwanese delegation with Lithuanian officials in Vilnius in late October. Among the honourable guests was Dr. Tsung-Tsong Wu, Taiwan’s Minister of Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), who kindly agreed to speak to The Baltic Times editor.

What is your impression of Vilnius? And what vibe have you gotten from the meetings with Lithuanian officials?

It is my first time in Lithuania. My first feeling here is that the local people are very sincere and the working attitude is very proper and diligent and business-minded.

Lithuania is definitely a country that we would like to cooperate with much more in the future.

Before coming here, I already knew that Lithuania shares a common history with the other two Baltic countries (Latvia and Estonia), and that all of you are independent states since 1990s.

The reason I am here is that we really share a lot of common values. First of all, democracy and also freedom, as well as human rights, which are our core values.

I found out here that, in your Cabinet, you have a lot of women leaders, female ministers, some of whom, like the Minister of Economy and Innovation (Ausrine Armonaite), and the Minister of Education, Science and Sport (Jurgita Siugzdiniene) I met while in Vilnius.

This is something we are still on the way to in Taiwan, where we aim to provide equal rights to everyone and be more inclusive.

No doubt, you looked through the numbers of bilateral trade before your trip to Lithuania. Where do you see its potential?

As Minister of Science and Technology (MOST) and Deputy Convenor of the Board of Science and Technology (BOST), the Executive Yuan, I am more (focused) on national science and technology development policies, major S&T programs as well as academic basic research and academia-industry links and innovation.

I found out (while in Lithuania) that you have strong (science and innovation) capabilities of Baltech (Baltech was set up with the aim to be the solid base for wider partnership and closer cooperation between universities in the Baltic Sea Region within the area of natural sciences, technology and industrial management and as a strategic resource for long-term development of education and research in accordance with the needs of the region – L. J.) and I find it very encouraging that a memorandum of mutual understanding was signed between Taiwan's National Sun Yat-sen University and three Lithuanian universities (including Vilnius University, Vilnius Gediminas Technical University and Kaunas University of Technology, according to Lithuania's Ministry of Education, Science and Sport – L. J.)

They will cooperate in a joint Taiwanese-Lithuanian semiconductor talent cultivation and research programme.

Lithuania has done much very good basic researche in the fields of science, technologies and digital transformation.

Having started from the beginning, now Lithuania sees many trees, the results of the research, growing.

For a small country like Taiwan, that was key in our own transformation.

How could countries like Lithuania benefit from Taiwan in developing and implementing digital and scientific solutions?

I’d again use the comparison of trees – we should plant a forest with a lot of trees. That’s what we are doing in Taiwan, turning our technological achievements into practical use – be it the field of medicine, machinery or energy.

We are aiming at accelerating digital transformation of traditional industries. In fact, in Taiwan, we have several strategies focusing on that, with all of our ministries cooperating for the goal.

While some are still not very much familiar with, say, artificial intelligence, we must have a mechanism which accelerates the transition and the transformation.

It definitely needs cooperation of different ministries on the national level.

While in Lithuania, I was interested in how Lithuania is set to merge some state agencies to achieve better results in the fields of science and technologies.

It is very important to have a top-level coordination of technological transformation. This is what we are doing in Taiwan.

Since 2016, Taiwan has been implementing its Digital Nation and Innovative Economic Development Program (DIGI+) along with its 5+2 Innovative Industries Plan. What is so special about it? What has been accomplished? And how is the COVID-19 pandemic shaping the effort?

Taiwan has lately focused a lot on digital policies, note, including minorities and being inclusive as much as possible.

Notably, in the name of the program, DIGI, the second letter, “I” means innovation and the fourth letter, also, “I”, means inclusiveness.

In the next few years, we will see everything (digitally) connected and everything around us will revolve around digital technologies, especially in the field of medicine and energy. And, certainly, circular economy is and will be very important.

Considering that, semiconductor chips (otherwise known as integrated circuits, or just chips—that power our phones, laptops, cars, watches, refrigerators and more – L. J) will be very important. Digital technologies, human rights and democracy are all linked.

How to use technologies to ensure convenience while maintaining human rights is always a fine balance.

Lithuanian media found the idea of building a semiconductor factory in Lithuania, possibly a joint project of Lithuanian and Taiwanese businesses, particularly interesting and attractive. What do you believe needs to be done on both sides to make it happen?

Actually, the semiconductor industry involves a lot of supply chains, so, shortly, a lot needs to be done to make it happen.

And, actually, in Taiwan we are not doing everything ourselves – we are relying a lot on cooperation with companies all over the world. For example, we have a lot of materials coming from Japan. That’s the business eco-system we are in.

If I were in a position to suggest, we should start with small things, like producing certain semiconductor parts, before we expand.

I am proud that Taiwan can share its best experiences with Lithuanian students, who come to our country to learn. While in Lithuania, I was told that there are around 20 Lithuanian students who are about to come to Taiwan to get their degrees.

What is your message to those Lithuanian businesses that, traditionally, prefer business ties with their Chinese partners and, for now, overlook business possibilities with Taiwan?

Let me say this: in the recent two or three years, the international geography has been changing very rapidly.

We have democratic countries and we have Communist China – with their different values.

Let me note this: more Taiwanese businessmen than ever are coming back to Taiwan or moving relatively close to Taiwan, for example, to India or southeast Asia. That’s a trend we are seeing. And it is happening due to the potential that Taiwan has and offers.

That does not mean that we do not want (to have) a market in China, but we have to consider the big trend that is coming – businesses depend on democracy, and business can flourish thanks to the freedom that democracy provides.

We are seeing that clearly in the United States of America, Europe and elsewhere.

How is Taiwan using its digital solutions to battle the COVID-19 pandemic we are still in? And what is the Taiwanese experience that Lithuania could be interested in?

Actually, I think Lithuania can have similar results in fighting the virus, especially since the low population density is a blessing for the Baltic States during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In retrospect, when the demand for face-masks was very huge in the beginning of the pandemic, we even asked our auto companies to get together and address the challenges to our health sector.

Just in one month we thus managed to increase the throughput of facemasks very significantly – up to 10 million facemasks per day.

We have also applied digital technologies hooking it to the mask registration sytem. Thus, all citizens had easy access to masks for protection.

When we had plenty of them, Taiwan donated 100,000 facemasks to Lithuania, which, in turn, donated thousands of vaccines against COVID-19 to us as a sign of appreciation.

Another example, this year, a vaccination appointment system was developed. Considering practicing digital inclusion, the Taiwan government took digital literacy of people of different ages into consideration, and provided both an online and manual appointment system, so that people can get vaccinated in order, quickly and safely.

Meanwhile, we all have observed that COVID-19 has speeded the adoption of digital technologies.

Because of the pandemic crisis we have to speed up our digital transformation, which we discussed earlier.

In five years from now, what would you see as big accomplishments in relations between Taiwan and Lithuania?

Actually, if you had asked me this (question) a couple of days ago, before our visit to Lithuania, I’d struggle to answer it.

But now (the interview was conducted on October 28 – L. J) following the talks with your two ministers (the minister of Economy and Innovation (Ausrine Armonaite), and the minister of education, science and sport (Jurgita Siugzdiniene – L. J.) and the members of Lithuania’s Science Academy, I am optimistic.

We definitely have common goals, especially for the short period, like the next five or six years. Laser, bio-technologies and exchange of students are certainly the areas where we can work together and even accelerate our efforts.

Particularly, within the framework of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

I am fully supporting this kind of cooperation.

We also want to thank Lithuania a lot for its support and, I am sure, we can successfully cooperate for years to come. I believe we have a nice future.