Bi-khim Hsiao talks on the phone in November 2020 with Anthony Blinken, who was President-elect Joe Biden's foreign policy adviser and became secretary of state after Biden took office. Photo courtesy of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- After recently leaving her post as envoy to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao appears headed to become Taiwan's next vice president, according to public opinion polls.
Over the last three years, the female diplomat with an American mother impressed Washington with her cat-like balance, despite China's consistent efforts to block her.
Hsiao's achievements reflect her description of herself as a "cat warrior," a metaphor to contrast her nimble style with China's aggressive "wolf warrior diplomacy."
The United States has no official relations with Taiwan under the U.S. "one China" policy, and yet, during her time as the chief envoy, she attended President Joe Biden's inauguration and two House speakers met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
Those who watched Hsiao closely gave her credit for strengthening U.S.-Taiwan ties, despite China's objections.
"I think that's a very smart image, very smart metaphor, to be a warrior cat rather than a lion or a tiger, that you are a warrior cat, you kind of move lightly and with great skill," said U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who traveled to Taipei last summer with then Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
No diplomatic ties
Because of a lack of diplomatic ties with the United States, Hsiao's title was Taipei economic and cultural representative, rather than ambassador. China repeatedly objected to Taiwan's connection with American officials.
When Hsiao attended Biden's inauguration at the Capitol in January 2021, Beijing criticized the United States and threatened Taiwan to "get a dose of its own medicine."
After Tsai's meetings with Pelosi, Beijing announced sanctions against Hsiao by banning her from traveling to China, Hong Kong or Macao. Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., became the first speaker to meet with a Taiwanese president on U.S. soil since 1979.
Again, China sanctioned Hsiao. She poked fun at that country's harsh rhetoric by tweeting "Wow, the PRC just sanctioned me again, for the second time."
In 1979, when Hsiao was 7 years old, Washington switched its recognition of the "One China" from Taipei to Beijing. Taiwan has not sent an ambassador to the United States since then. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office became Taiwan's de facto embassy in the United States.
Born in Japan in 1971, Hsiao was raised in Southern Taiwan by a Taiwanese father who was a Presbyterian minister and an American mother who was a music teacher. Hsiao is a native English speaker.
Hsiao's family later moved to New Jersey during her teenage years. She graduated from Montclair High School in New Jersey and Oberlin College in Ohio, and earned her master's degree in political science from Columbia University in New York.
Dove into politics early
Hsiao dove into politics early, joining organizations including the Formosan Association for Public Affairs and the Representative Office of Taiwan's Democracy Progressive Party, known as DPP, in Washington. She later became the youngest director of the party's international affairs at 26.
"Hsiao built up her network in D.C. since then," Jessica Ni, who has worked as the Washington correspondent of Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS for 15 years, told Medill News Service. "Those who Hsiao knew before are having a strong impact on the U.S. government now."
Hsiao's early networking paid off when she returned to Washington to represent Taiwan.
Chinyeh Chiang, the Washington correspondent of Taiwan's Central News Agency, said Hsaio had known Kurt Campbell, national security coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, for years. He was nominated to be deputy secretary of State Nov. 1.
"This kind of long-lasting relationship in the United States opened doors for Hsiao with politicians," Chiang said.
In 2002, Hsiao gave up her American citizenship to start her career in Taiwan's national legislature.
She was one of the first legislators to propose a same-sex marriage bill for approval in 2006. Thirteen years after her first attempt, Hsiao openly called on other Christian legislators to "care about the weakest people like God asks us to do" and support the "marriage equality bill" in 2019.
That year, Taiwan became the first Asian country to recognize same-sex marriage.
Hsiao was named to be Taiwan's envoy to the United States after she lost her position as a legislator. Her legislative experience appealed to congressional members.
Full inclusion of LGBTQ people
Rep. Takano, who co-chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus, said he and Hsiao "both are very forward thinking about full inclusion of LGBTQ people," Takano said during an interview in his office on Capitol Hill.
"I think it's an amazing career that she had LGBTQ equality as part of her legislative record. I think that bodes well."
"For her future leadership, as her aspirations to ascend into the higher rungs of Taiwanese leadership, I thought it would be very delightful for me to see someone with her values and sense of the vice presidency," Takano said.
Last month, Hsiao resigned as Taiwan's representative and started running for vice president, partnering with the current Vice President William Lai, who is running for president.
"I am back. I will shoulder the unshirkable responsibility of supporting Taiwan," Hsiao said at the first press conference after she was named as the VP candidate from the ruling DPP on Nov. 20.
Hsiao said that she would take advantage of all the experience accumulated in her previous posts, including as envoy to the United States, and do more for Taiwan and Taiwan's people.
"Whether Taiwan can safeguard its democracy and decide its own future will have a huge impact on Taiwan's own survival and on the world as a whole," Hsiao said.
Taiwan's president and vice president candidates are on the same ticket and are nominated by the same political party. Vice president is the second-highest constitutional office of Taiwan, and would succeed the president upon death, resignation or removal.
Lai and Hsiao were leading the polls. According to polling by My Formosa, published Dec. 6, 38.3% of voters supported Hsiao and Lai, while the other two candidates, Hou Yu-ih and Ko Wen-je, were favored by 31.4% and 14.8%.
Takano said he believes Taiwan would be served well by Hsiao if she were to win.
"I think it's important for Taiwan to have people with that diplomatic experience and to understand the nuances of international relations to be in Taiwanese leadership," Takano said.