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Woman with Taiwan roots in US administration

Born to a Taiwanese mom and Indian father, Shanthi Kalathil set to boost Peace

Jose Kalathil

New Delhi,India: The newly-installed Joe Biden administration has given a major boost to Washington’s policy towards Taiwan by making the policy vis-a-vis China clear. Perhaps more importantly, a woman cherishing democracy and with Taiwanese roots has been given a key position.

As they put it, the beginning never knows the growth! What’s in a name? Some names can turn prophetic. Affectionately called Shanthi – meaning the Peace in India’s national language Hindi – 49-year-old Shanthi Kalathil now has a role to play for peace and progress vis-a-vis the United States, India and Taiwan.

Appointed as the Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council of the US under new President Joe Biden, Shanthi Kalathil is daughter of Indian origin late James Kalathil and Taiwan national Lucia Tang.

Appointment of Ms Shanthi came at a time when the new US dispensation under Joe Biden has committed to stick to the Taiwan policy as was outlined by the Trump administration.

“Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” said a US government statesman.

It also said “We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific region — and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan”.

It reiterated Washington’s stance of supporting “a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan.”

The statement also said that the US would continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining “sufficient self-defense capability,” as outlined in the Three Joint Communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances.”

“Shanthi’s new assignment is like a gift to democracy because she admires its values,” says Pappachan Kalathil, her paternal uncle, a former president of the Federation of Kerala Associations of North America. He termed it a great accolade for the family.

Now as the news of her appointment spread there is an atmosphere of celebration in her late father’s family in Kannankara village in Alleppey in India’s southern state of Kerala, reports New Indian Express. And predictably so.

Brought up in the US, 49-year-old Shanthi was serving as the senior director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, where her work focused on emerging challenges to democracy.

According to Pappachen, a family friend, who had his education in the same school where I studied and has many common friends in the US and India said, “Shanthi’s mother Lucia Tang is the daughter of late General Tang, a close associate of Chiang kai-shek, the Father of the Nation, Taiwan. Lucia, who was born in China, had fled to the then Formosa island, along with Chiang in 1949.”

Pappachan added, “My elder brother James and I went to the US around 40 years ago. He served as a professor in various universities there, but died a few years ago. Shanthi, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley was brilliant in studies and completed journalism from the London School of Economics. Her new assignment will be a gift to democracy because she admires its values”.

She had also served as a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, non-resident associate with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and as a consultant for the World Bank and many more. She was also a reporter with Hong Kong-based The Asian Wall Street Journal, and an advisor to several international affairs organizations.

She has authored numerous policy and scholarly publications, including Diplomacy, Development and Security in the Information Age (Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 2013), Developing Independent Media as an Institution of Accountable Governance (The World Bank, 2008), and The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003). Shanthi is also the co-author of Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule.

Her father, James, a post-doctor fellow in Physics at the Carbondale University, Illinois, had met Lucia, a PhD student in English at the same university, while studying there. Later, in 1960, they moved to California, where they worked in California Polytechnic Institute (Calpol). Ten years ago, the family moved to Washington, where her father worked at Polytechnic Institute (Polytech). Shanthi’s only brother Jayan, is now an employee at Calpol.

Meanwhile, the new American administration under Biden has called on China to “engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives.”

“Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” an official statement said.

Obviously, the statement was welcomed by both Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and main opposition Kuomintang (KMT).

Though the Trump administration’s approach to China was often controversial, the new regime under Biden too would be almost toeing the same line as there is broad bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Republicans in America that China poses a major challenge to U.S. interests and on issues related to Taiwan too.

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