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Taiwan’s strengths in innovation grab world attention

As the fifth-largest economy in Asia, Taiwan’s possesses strengths in several industries, most notably in semiconductors, biotechnology and information technology. But, it is commonly overlooked.

Historically unable to join several international organizations and trade agreements, Taiwan has had to work harder to develop and market its products in technology, medicine and biotechnology.

Taoyuan, a city in the north that neighbors the capital Taipei, is home to many industrial parks and tech companies, and has thus been dubbed Asia’s Silicon Valley. Reflecting that growth in status, its government has undertaken major projects, such as the Taoyuan International Airport expansion and Aerotropolis project to further increase the

With Taoyuan City Mayor Cheng Wen-Tsan

attractiveness of the city.

These projects have already attracted several large international companies, mostly from the United States, to set up facilities in the city. To complement its efforts, the Taoyuan government is opening offices in Silicon Valley to facilitate more collaboration between tech companies from both sides.

“We are great partners to Silicon Valley because we have more intellectual property. Taiwan and China may both speak Chinese and English, but we have different value. We have more similar values with the United States even if we speak different languages,” said Taoyuan City Mayor Cheng Wen-Tsan.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is one prime example of the country’s contribution to the global innovation eco-system. Through its Open Innovation Platform, TSMC gives companies of all sizes the opportunity to focus on innovating in their respective, specialized fields.

With TaiwanJ Pharmaceuticals CEO Dr. Shih Ying-Chu

As a global company with 70 percent of its business coming from the United States, TSMC remains steadfast in developing pioneering products, knowing that its expansion plans depend on maintaining its competitive edge. 

“The United States will still be the innovation driver in this industry. Taiwanese companies are not just Taiwanese companies; they are mostly global companies so it’s not about connecting them in an island but to connect them on a global scale,” said TSMC Co-CEO Mark Liu.

A small but promising biotechnology company, TaiwanJ Pharmaceuticals has seen some impressive results in its clinical trials. In operation only since 2011, the company has successfully completed two phases of trials and is on its third and fourth phases of testing, which are done in collaboration with American pharmaceutical companies. The studies also aim to provide extensive feedback from doctors that will make collaboration easier between several other regions.

“U.S. guidance is clear and easy to follow. Usually, we look for medium to big sized pharmaceutical companies who are faster and more experienced because we want to grow

With Taiwan Bio Industry Organization Chairman Dr. Johnsee Lee

with them. You need someone who can do what you cannot do,” explained TaiwanJ Pharmaceuticals CEO Dr. Shih Ying-Chu.

Meanwhile, the Taiwan Bio Industry Organization’s has stepped up efforts to grow the industry and market it to the world. To carry this out, the organization focuses on three main areas: be the bridge to the international community, help train the people and harmonize the policies and regulations with the United States and other countries. 

Its main challenge has been to change the mindset of the Taiwanese: to teach them, including the government, to look at the bigger picture and see that gains that international collaboration can bring. Simultaneously, it also needs to instill more confidence among the industry that its well-developed skills are needed and will not be overshadowed by those in China.

“Taiwan has good clinical foundation. We can leverage Taiwan’s strengths in the semiconductor, IT, healthcare and biotechnology industries through innovation, develop better products and bring them to a wider market. That way, Taiwan still has an advantage on innovative products,” said Taiwan Bio Industry Organization Chairman Dr. Johnsee Lee.

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Taiwan 2017 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

PDF of the printed report

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