The Taiwan Democracy Project


The Taiwan Democracy Project (TDP) resides in the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) for International Studies at Stanford University. The current incarnation of the TDP dates back to 2005, when it was founded under the direction of Larry Diamond to promote the study of the successes and remaining challenges facing Taiwan’s democracy, including those related to Cross-Strait relations. I have served as the program manager of the project since 2013; my predecessor in this role was Eric Yu (俞振華), now a vice president at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, who held the position from 2006-2009. The project’s activities have been supported over this period by an annual grant from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and have included three primary elements: (1) a speaker series, (2) an annual conference, and (3) a visiting fellows program.

1. Speaker Series

The speaker series consists of six to eight lectures a year by scholars and policy-makers working in the TDP’s core areas of interest: Taiwan’s domestic politics, democratic transition and consolidation, and cross-Strait relations. In the past several years, this series has featured talks on a widening range of topics, including a comparison of human rights norms in Taiwan and the PRC (Margaret Lewis), the 1943 Cairo Conference (Ronald Heiferman), the Buddhist charity foundation Tzu-chi (C. Julia Huang), electoral campaign regulations in Taiwan and South Korea (Jong-sung You), the divergent impacts of health insurance systems in Taiwan and South Korea (Rachel Jui-fen Liu), and a reading of Green Island: A Novel (Shawna Yang Ryan). The series also occasionally sponsors presentations by prominent experts and policy- makers involved in US-Taiwan-PRC relations, including Lyu-shun Shen, Richard Bush, Bonnie Glaser, Hung-mao Tien, and Alan Romberg.

2. Annual Conference

The second component of the TDP’s programming is a conference on a topic of particular prominence in Taiwan, held annually on the Stanford University campus. In recent years, we have examined democratic achievements and challenges in Taiwan and Korea (2011), the Asian Barometer’s public opinion data about democracy in Taiwan (2012), the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its potential effects on Taiwan (2013), the politics of political polarization (2014), constitutional reform issues (2015), and the democratic legacy of the Ma Ying-jeou era (2017).

The product of these meetings varies; in some years, we have issued a conference report (as we did in 2013 on the Trans-Pacific Partnership), while in others we have revised some of the conference papers for publication in an edited book volume. The TDP has to date published three books that drew material from one or more of our annual conferences:

  • Political Change in China: Comparisons with Taiwan, ed. Bruce Gilley and Larry Diamond (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008)

  • New Challenges for Maturing Democracies in Korea and Taiwan, ed. Larry Diamond and Gi-wook Shin (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014)

  • Taiwan’s Democracy Challenged: The Chen Shui-bian Years, ed. Yun-han Chu, Larry Diamond, and Kharis Templeman (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016)

A fourth book, on the democratic legacy of the Ma Ying-jeou era, is in progress and will be in part based on papers presented at our most recent conference, "Taiwan’s Democratic Development: Reflections on the The Ma Ying-jeou Era."

3. Visitors program

The third component of the TDP has been a visiting fellows program for mid-career MOFA officials, who spent up to a year in residence at Stanford attending talks and classes and working on a research project. The visiting fellows program was initially a central element of the project, but it has declined in importance as MOFA has found it increasingly difficult to provide the necessary leave to officers, and as the cost of living in the Palo Alto area has become prohibitively high. The last visiting MOFA fellows we hosted were in summer 2015.

On a positive note, our program has gradually taken on a new role as a “window” into Stanford for visitors from Taiwan, and for faculty, staff, and students who want to build connections to Taiwan. Stanford University’s reputation and its favored location within Silicon Valley and the Bay Area make it a favorite stop for academic and political delegations, and we regularly facilitate meetings between Taiwanese groups and members of the Stanford community. In recent years we have also helped arrange visits from a wide range of past and present public officials and leaders of all political stripes in Taiwan, including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), former premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), legislators Yao Wen-chih (姚文智), Chao Tien-lin ( 趙天麟 ), and Jason Hsu ( 許毓仁 ), former Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進 添 ), current Minister of the Interior Yeh Jiunn- rong ( 葉俊榮 ), current Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂), former Mainland Affairs Council minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦), current National Development Council minister Chen Tain-jy (陳添枝), former presidential spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強), Social Democratic Party co-founder Fan Yun (范 雲), and Sunflower Movement leaders Chen Wei- ting (陳為廷), Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), and Wei Yang (魏揚).

4. Teaching and Student Engagement

Unusually for the Taiwan Studies programs featured in the pages of the EATS newsletter, teaching has not been one of the central components of the Taiwan Democracy Project. Our parent institution, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, is organized as a research institute rather than a school or college of the university, and does not in general offer degree-granting programs for students. Stanford has a well-known Master’s program offered through the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS), but CEAS sits within the School of Humanities and Sciences and has no formal relationship with FSI. Thus, although faculty and staff within FSI often serve as advisors for CEAS MA students, and often for undergraduates as well, this involvement in teaching and advising is typically on an individual, ad hoc basis. The TDP has therefore not traditionally offered courses as part of its activities.

Nevertheless, we have in recent years made a concerted effort to expand our outreach to students. One element of this broadened mandate is an internship program, which places a Stanford undergraduate at a site in Taiwan for 10 weeks during Stanford’s summer break. Students have completed internships at Formosa TV in Taipei, the Department of Education in Taoyuan City, and most recently at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. We have also recently secured a second internship opportunity via the Stanford in Government program, which in summer 2018 will for the first time support a student in the office of a legislator at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.

In addition, I have for the last two years taught an elective course on Taiwan politics called “Taiwan’s Democratic Evolution,” first offered via the Department of Political Science and now listed through the Center for East Asian Studies. Larry Diamond and I regularly advise students in the CEAS and International Policy Studies MA programs with an interest in Taiwan, as well. The TDP also has partnered with several outside groups to arrange Taiwan-related student events on campus, including the annual meetings of the Inter-collegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) (in 2015), and the North American Taiwan Studies Association (NATSA) (in 2016).

5. Future Directions of the Taiwan program at Stanford University

As of this writing, the Taiwan program at Stanford is in the midst of a modest restructuring in leadership and mission. In January 2018, the Taiwan Democracy Project will relocate to the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center (APARC) within FSI, where it will join the US- Asia Security Initiative under the direction of Karl Eikenberry, a former 3-star general in the US Army who also served as the US ambassador to Afghanistan during the Obama administration. The previous director of the TDP, Larry Diamond, will remain an affiliated senior research fellow but will hand over administrative responsibilities to Amb. Eikenberry. The program will also be renamed the Taiwan Democracy and Security Project (TDSP) to reflect the addition of security issues to its core research areas of democracy and cross-Strait relations. As the program manager, I will remain responsible for the day-to-day management of the TDSP.

As part of this restructuring, our research focus will be expanded to include greater attention to security issues, including cross-Strait relations, the PRC’s Taiwan policy, the US-Taiwan partnership, and challenges to and opportunities for regional economic and security cooperation. Although the TDP has traditionally included all of these topics under its purview, these issues will become more central to our programming over the next few years. In addition, APARC already has well-established programs on China, Japan, and Korea, and Taiwan’s addition to the center provides it with a more natural intellectual and policy “home” within FSI, as well as a community of like-minded research fellows with expertise in foreign policy, security, and international economics. The move to APARC and the US-Asia Security Initiative also will provide additional support for arranging so-called “Track II” dialogues, in which policy-makers close to their respective governments in Taiwan and the United States come together to discuss ways to strengthen the bilateral relationship and enhance cooperation on issues of mutual concern. We expect these kinds of semi-official diplomatic and security exchanges to become a more central part of our program’s activities in the coming years.

The Taiwan Democracy and Security Project will also continue its work to support the many other long-standing connections between Stanford and Taiwan. For instance, Stanford holds two separate endowed memorial lectures on campus named in memory of former presidents of the Central Bank of the Republic of China: the annual Sam-chung Hsieh ( 謝森中 ) lecture organized by Stanford Libraries, and the biannual Kuo-shu Liang ( 梁國樹 ) lecture put on by the Stanford Center for International Development. The university also has four separate endowed chairs (in medicine, economic development, engineering, and Chinese literature) dedicated to the memory of K.T. Li ( 李國鼎 ), a trusted economic advisor to Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo and one of the principal architects of Taiwan’s postwar economic miracle. The East Asia Archives at the Hoover Institution, currently managed by the Taiwanese librarian and historian Hsiao-ting Lin ( 林 孝 庭 ), are best-known in Taiwan for housing the Chiang Kai-shek diaries, but they also contain a large set of other important collections related to Taiwan’s post-war history, including the private papers of George Kerr, Wang Sheng (王勝), and Lei Chen (雷震). And Stanford’s Taiwanese student and alumni associations remain vibrant and enthusiastic supporters of the promotion of Taiwan and Taiwan Studies on campus.

Finally, we will continue to seek opportunities to collaborate with the many other Taiwan Studies programs in North America, Europe, and elsewhere, and to contribute to the continued maturation of the study of Taiwan.

Dr Kharis Templeman is the program manager of the newly-renamed Taiwan Democracy and Security Project, a component of the US-Asia Security Initiative in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC) in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. He can be reached at