The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) announced Tuesday (July 6) that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island Affairs Sandra Oudkirk will assume the role of director of AIT’s office in Taipei. A press release issued by AIT says Sun will assume her new duties in Taipei this summer. She will also be the first female director of AIT’s Taipei office since its inception in 1979.
Brent Christensen, the current director of AIT’s Taipei office, is expected to leave the city later this month as her three-year term in Taipei expires. During her three years as director, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship has enjoyed an overall boost, and on June 25, President Tsai Ing-wen awarded Li the Grand Cordon of the Order of the King Star in recognition of her significant contributions to the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Li said at the time, “Although I’m leaving Taiwan, Taiwan will never leave me. He vowed to continue to promote U.S.-Taiwan relations after he leaves office.
Sun Xiaoya joined the State Department in 1991 and has been engaged in U.S. foreign relations for 30 years. She has been stationed in Taipei and served as a commercial attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Sun has also been posted to Ireland, Turkey, and Jamaica. She is fluent in Chinese and Turkish.
Sun has served in several Deputy Assistant Secretary positions at the U.S. Department of State. She served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy before serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, and she served as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Financial Threats and Sanctions. She also served as a senior Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) officer at the U.S. Department of State.
With separate assignments in Taipei and Beijing, Sun is familiar with cross-strait affairs. She once praised Taiwan as a democratic success story, a trusted partner, and a force for good in the world during a congressional hearing. 2019 saw the Solomon Islands and Kiribati break diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and Sun publicly attacked Beijing at that time during a congressional hearing for soliciting and enticing Pacific island nations to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish diplomatic relations with Beijing; she also accused the Chinese authorities of changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, undermining regional stability She also accused the Chinese authorities of altering the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, harming regional stability, and hurting the architecture that has allowed peace, stability and development in the Indo-Pacific region for decades.
In 2019, Sun Xiaoya also represented then-President Donald Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the first Taiwan-U.S. Pacific Dialogue in Taipei, and also traveled to Taiwan’s presidential palace to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, fully demonstrating the U.S. government’s support for Taiwan at a difficult time when Taiwan was losing its diplomatic relations due to Beijing’s poaching.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing on January 1, 1979, the United States has developed unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan through the American Institute in Taiwan. In the early years, the Director of the AIT Office in Taipei, appointed by the U.S. government, had to leave his diplomatic status before he could travel to Taiwan in a civilian capacity to highlight the nature of the so-called “unofficial U.S.-Taiwan relationship. But this practice has now been discontinued. Sun Xiaoya went directly to Taipei in her official capacity as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.
The AIT Taipei office is the equivalent of a U.S. embassy abroad, and the Director of the Taipei office is the equivalent of a U.S. ambassador abroad. However, the appointment of the Director of the Taipei Office is currently not required to be vetted and voted on by the U.S. Senate, as is the case with other U.S. ambassadorial personnel cases abroad.