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President Lai confers decoration on AIT Taipei Office Director Sandra Oudkirk
President Lai confers decoration on AIT Taipei Office Director Sandra Oudkirk

On the afternoon of July 3, President Lai Ching-te presented Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Taipei Office, with the Order of Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon in recognition of her outstanding contributions to Taiwan-US relations. In remarks, President Lai stated that with Director Oudkirk’s efforts over these past three years, Taiwan and the US have seen considerable results in national defense and economic and trade cooperation, and that we are at a time in which Taiwan-US ties have never been better. The president expressed hope that Director Oudkirk will continue to support Taiwan in the future, help advance Taiwan-US cooperation, and help us achieve even greater mutual development.

A translation of President Lai’s remarks follows:

Today, I am delighted to represent the people and government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in conferring the Order of Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon upon Director Oudkirk, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to Taiwan-US relations.

Director Oudkirk shares a very close bond with Taiwan. When she was first posted here in 1992, she was the youngest diplomat at AIT – a beautiful diplomat with a promising future, with both brains and brawn. I say this because she is not only a professional in diplomacy, but also widely recognized as a taekwondo expert. Thirty years later, she returned to Taiwan and became the first woman to hold the position of AIT director.

Director Oudkirk not only has a deep bond with Taiwan, but also has genuine affection for Taiwan, and has helped us greatly. The four primary objectives she set for herself when taking office were to support Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities, further deepen Taiwan-US economic ties and promote global supply chain resilience, support Taiwan’s participation in international affairs and meaningful participation in organizations affiliated with the United Nations, and build further on our already excellent ties. These four objectives are all extremely important for Taiwan, and in just three short years of work, we have already seen considerable results.

Director Oudkirk’s efforts during her tenure also supported us in matters of national defense, with President Joe Biden’s administration announcing a total of 15 military sales to Taiwan, and receiving congressional support to utilize presidential drawdown authority and the Foreign Military Financing program to help Taiwan enhance our self-defense capabilities.

As for economic and trade cooperation, we have already signed the first agreement under the Taiwan-US Initiative on 21st-Century Trade, and the second round of negotiation is ongoing. The initiative will help Taiwan stake out a position as the global industry chain is newly reshuffled, and serve as a key force for economic prosperity and development in the international community moving forward.

Director Oudkirk has also worked hard to support the expansion of Taiwan’s international space. Each year, Congress and relevant administrative agencies have been actively working with the international community to support our participation in the World Health Assembly and various international activities to give Taiwan the opportunity to contribute more to the international community through our public health capabilities.

We are at a time in which Taiwan-US ties have never been better. When Taiwan faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, the US donated millions of doses of vaccines to us. This act is clear proof of that, and shows that Director Oudkirk fully achieved the four objectives she set at the beginning of her tenure.

Director Oudkirk, you are an excellent diplomat, as well as a dear friend of Taiwan, and the upcoming completion of your tenure at AIT is very much bittersweet. I hope that wherever your career takes you next, you will continue to support Taiwan as you always have, help advance Taiwan-US cooperation, and help us achieve even greater mutual development. We invite you to come back to Taiwan often to see good friends and enjoy your favorite pepper buns. We wish you all the best.

Director Oudkirk then delivered remarks, saying she is truly honored to receive the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon. Serving as director of AIT has truly been a professional dream come true, she said, and at this moment, the culmination of the three years we have spent together advancing the rock-solid US-Taiwan partnership is something she never could have imagined when she first began her life as a diplomat three decades ago.

Director Oudkirk went on to say that she has lived in Taipei twice – first as the youngest and least senior American working at AIT in the early 1990s, and then returning three years ago as AIT director. Over the intervening three decades, she said, US-Taiwan ties steadily deepened and broadened. 

The director stated that these ties are underpinned by our shared values as free, open, and democratic societies. She said that even as the world has changed, and the global landscape facing the US and Taiwan has become more complex, US support for Taiwan has remained strong, principled, and bipartisan.

Director Oudkirk lightheartedly remarked that as President Lai already stated her four primary objectives as AIT director, she would like to move on to talk about the people invited to join that day’s ceremony. She said it has been an honor to work with her AIT colleagues, and that she is accepting this award not just for herself, but for all of them. Diplomacy is, in fact, a team sport, the director said. Nothing is done as an individual; it is all done as part of a team, she said.

Director Oudkirk indicated that in attendance were also representatives from some of the institutions that AIT works most closely with, including the Taipei American School, American Club Taipei, and Foundation for Scholarly Exchange (Fulbright Taiwan). Speaking to our strong, deep, and usually complimentary economic and commercial relationship, she also acknowledged representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce Taiwan and American state offices.

Director Oudkirk then thanked AIT’s Taiwan counterparts, both former and current, saying that they are a great team to work with, and that it has been fantastic these three years. She said she is deeply proud of what the US and Taiwan achieved together, and that she firmly believes that the future is bright for Taiwan, for the US, and for our rock-solid partnership.

Director Oudkirk said that over a lifetime of diplomatic service, she has grown accustomed to saying “see you next time” rather than “goodbye.” But regardless of where we next meet each other, she said, she wants everyone to know that she will be forever changed for the better by her time in Taiwan and by the kindness and warmth of the people on this incredible island.

Also in attendance at the ceremony were AIT Taipei Office Deputy Director Jeremy Cornforth, Agricultural Section Chief Erich Kuss, and Political Section Chief Richard Jao (饒昌明).

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