by Peter Freyne
Republican State Sen. Vince Illuzzi (Essex-Orleans) returns to Vermonttoday from a week-long diplomatic trade mission to the Republic of China,a.k.a. Taiwan. Illuzzi chairs the Senate Economic DevelopmentCommittee. After Canada, Taiwan is Vermont No. 2 trading partner.
Ol' Vincenzo, first elected to the Vermont Senate in 1980 at the age of 27, wasVermont's rep on a New England delegation that included Rhode Island'slieutenant governor and legislative leaders from Maine, Rhode Island,Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
"You come to a country like Taiwan with certain preconceived notions,"said Illuzzi in a phone interview from Taipei on Thursday night. "WhenI was a kid you’d get these cheap little toys with a sticker that said'Made in Taiwan.' So I’d thought I’d come here and find a Third World-like country," he told Freyne Land, "and it’s really anything but that."
He was surprised, he told us, to find that "the standard of living hereis almost equal to the United States." Plus, "they all speak English,which says something about society here. They’re all bilingual.
"In fact we’ve been joking today that in the next 20-25 years Chineseshould be our first language in America. That’s the way things seem tobe developing."
The U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as a soverign nation. That is why, explained Vince, the U.S. rep there [we don't have an ambassador] "skipped town duringtheir Independence Day celebration" the other day. "There were representatives here fromthe countries that do recognize Taiwan as an independent and sovereignnation, and not a renegade province as does the People's Republic ofChina (mainland China).
Vermont's King of the Northeast Kingdom told Freyne Land he was interviewed by two television stations in Taipei about theobvious slight by the Bush Administration.
"As I recall it, said Vince, "I basicallysaid that I think most Americans know that the Taiwanese people arehard working and industrious, and that Vermonters appreciate Taiwanesecompanies because those companies purchase many of the chips producedat IBM Essex, Vermont's largest private employer."
"Made in Taiwan" no longer means what it did 35 years ago, said Illuzzi. "Thiscountry has transformed itself into a high technology R & D nationand it is moving fast forward to take the lead in the area ofbiotechnology development and manufacture, which they consider the nextfrontier."
And, yes, said Vince, they have heard of Vermont.
"Most are familiar with the changing seasons in Vermontand some have actually attended schools in Boston of New York and theyhave skied or at least visited Vermont," he said.
Have they heard, we asked, of our distinguished senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders?
"Sanders' name has come up a couple of times," said Illuzzi. "They’ve heard of Sandersand find it intriguing that a person who’s declared himself a socialistat some point is in the United States Congress, and they ask questions."
How's your Chinese, eh?