Taiwan finance leader debuts as visiting scholar at UW–Madison Law School

Law Professor Charles Irish first invited Yen Ching-Chang, his longtime friend, to come to the University of Wisconsin–Madison Law School as a visiting scholar in 2000. But Yen couldn’t accept then, because he was appointed that year Taiwan’s Minister of Finance.

Two years later, Yen became Taiwan’s first ambassador to the World Trade Organization. Then he became chairman of Yuanta Financial Holdings, a leading financial firm in Taiwan.

This spring, Yen retired from Yuanta, and finally was able to accept Irish’s invitation to come to Wisconsin.

“I’ve learned an enormous amount working with him over the last several decades,” Irish said recently, as he introduced his friend, who launched his work at UW–Madison with a talk on Taiwan’s status in the global economy.

Yen Ching-Chang and Charles Irish
Yen Ching-Chang and Charles Irish

The lecture, held at the University Club, was jointly sponsored by the East Asian Legal Studies Center (EALSC) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Chicago.

Calling himself a “cautious optimist,” Yen described Taiwan – the world’s 17th largest economy – as standing at a crossroads in terms of its economic development.  He cited sluggish private investment, weakening wage levels and a possible over-dependence on mainland China as “the one and only trade partner” as challenges facing the island country.

Taiwan – population 23 million – now has more than a million of its citizens residing in mainland China and 70,000 of its businesses with operations there.

“Taiwan’s government is in urgent need to change from ‘made by Taiwan’ to ‘made in Taiwan,’” Yen said, referring to the need to reestablish manufacturing and production in Taiwan.

Yueh-Chyou Wen, director of the Chicago-based Taiwan Trade Center, reinforced Yen’s point, noting that the iPhone is manufactured by a Taiwanese company, Foxconn, but Foxconn’s iPhone production is located in mainland China, where it employs more than a million workers.

During his visits to campus over the course of this academic year, Yen plans to work on a book about Taiwan’s economy, and expects to give another public lecture during the spring semester.

Irish, who also serves as senior director of the EALSC, met Yen in the 1990s at a conference in Taiwan.

When he first invited Yen to Madison, Irish gave him with a wristwatch that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the EALSC.  At his talk, Yen showed that he was wearing that watch, and was delighted at finally being able to accept his friend’s invitation.