“Taiwan and Virginia share common values, including democratic norms and support of a rules-based world order,” Youngkin’s order reads. On Twitter, Youngkin said Virginia and Taiwan “will continue to build a deep and lasting partnership.”
Tsai tweeted that she’d had “a pleasant & productive meeting” with Youngkin and his delegation. She thanked Virginia “for its support for Taiwan” and welcomed the trade office as a means to “further deepen our ties in economy & trade.”
Youngkin, who will also visit Japan and Korea, is widely expected to antagonize China with the Taiwan portion of the trip, since China considers U.S. outreach to the self-governing island a provocation. China is, by far, Virginia’s largest trading partner, with a combined $10.3 billion in imports and exports last year, according to state figures.
Trade with Taiwan, by comparison, amounted to $1.7 billion over the same period. Virginia exported $760 million in goods to Japan; imports from that country did not make Virginia’s top 10. Korean did not make the top 10 in imports or exports.
But experts differ on whether the move puts Virginia’s substantial trade with China at risk. Representatives at China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Youngkin, who traveled with two spokeswomen, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
The trip could help Youngkin — who made millions tied to China as co-CEO of the Carlyle Group private equity fund and declared himself in a 2019 interview “long-term bullish on China” — remake himself as a tough-on-China governor in the eyes of Republican presidential primary voters.
Often mentioned as a top presidential contender despite barely registering in polls, Youngkin has begun echoing the anti-China rhetoric voiced by former president Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other declared and potential presidential candidates.
In December, Youngkin pulled Virginia out of the running for a $3.5 billion Ford plant in an economically distressed area near Danville because the electric vehicle battery factory would use Chinese technology, calling the project “a front for the Chinese Communist Party.” He warned that China was trying to buy farmland near Virginia military bases, although the only major purchase was a decade ago, when the Hong Kong-based conglomerate WH Group bought Smithfield Foods.
“Poking China in the eye is popular with Republican base voters,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. “His critics will certainly call him out for not only damaging relations with Virginia’s major trading partner but focusing on his own barely concealed national political aspirations.”
Some trade experts doubt that China will react in any substantive way.
Cliff Williamson, executive director of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, thinks rapidly urbanizing China is too dependent on food imports to turn away the soybeans, pork and other agricultural items it imports from Virginia.
“The relationship with the Chinese government is what it is. We have products and quantities of products … that they want and they need and they are buying, I think, kind of regardless,” he said. He noted that leaders of other states, from red Florida and Texas to blue California, have taken “harsher stances” against China than Virginia without suffering negative consequences in trade.
“There are certain individuals that have said it louder and more aggressively [than Youngkin] and nothing has affected heir ability to sell products,” he said.
In 2012, Jim Cheng helped then-Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) sell $300 million in soybeans to China. Cheng, who was secretary of commerce and trade, is confident that Youngkin would not have undertaken the trip if existing trade deals with China were at risk.
“I don’t think that if anything bad were to happen to agriculture, which is a very important issue for Virginia, if there was really a threat of that, I really don’t think the governor would go. I think they’ve weighed the risks,” he said.
A native of Taiwan, Cheng called Youngkin’s stop there “a good choice.” He thinks the visit could lay the groundwork for mutually beneficial trade deals, perhaps involving intellectual property from Taiwan that could help promote U.S. production of semiconductors. He also thinks it’s a good idea for the governor to stand with Taiwan.
“They’re that bulwark of democracy and I just think the governor is making a point,” he said.