On June 16, the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on US-Taiwan relations, entitled “Why Taiwan Matters.” The meeting and the testimony from four US experts on relations with Taiwan produced quite an amazing bipartisan consensus on the present status and the way forward. Most members of the US Congress and all the presenters emphasized that US-Taiwan relations rested on a solid basis, reiterating that the Taiwan Relations Act and shared democratic values were the cornerstones of the relationship. However, there was general disappointment that ties had been allowed to drift.
Former US deputy assistant secretary of state Randy Schriver said that the administration of US President Barack Obama, like previous administrations, “does not have high enough aspirations for Taiwan.” Washington must be more creative and move away from the image that Taiwan is a “problem” to be managed as a subset of its relations with China.
June Teufel Dreyer, a professor at the University of Miami, said Chinese strategists view Taiwan as a stepping stone for reaching China’s larger goal of controlling sea lanes and resources in the Western Pacific. She emphasized that a free and democratic Taiwan was essential and criticized President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration for drifting toward Beijing “at the cost of erosion in Taiwan’s democracy.”
Nancy Tucker, a professor at Georgetown University, urged Congress to become more active in promoting the positive development of US-Taiwan relations. She reiterated that Beijing has continued to deploy missiles to threaten Taiwan despite the present relaxation in cross-strait tensions, and cautioned that it could easily revert to a more aggressive approach. She said Washington must indicate it is willing to work with whatever leadership is elected in Taiwan, sending a clear message that its democracy is here to stay.
US-Taiwan Chamber of Commerce president Rupert Hammond--Chambers decried the lack of ambition and leadership of the US government in relations with Taiwan. He — like all the other presenters — strongly urged the Obama administration to move forward with the sale of new F-16s to Taipei, saying the continued US freeze on arms sales risked legitimizing China’s reliance on military coercion to settle disputes.
All the presenters cautioned against recent proposals that the US reduce its commitment to Taiwan. US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen agreed, saying: “This [a reduced commitment to Taiwan] would be a terrible mistake which would have far-reaching ramifications about how the US treats its democratic allies — its friends.”
So, the signal from Congress is clear: Washington’s ties with Taiwan have been allowed to slip and more vigor and enthusiasm need to be put into the relationship. The Obama administration needs to move ahead with the sale of the F-16s and move away from self-imposed restrictions.
High-level contacts are the essence of international relations and the fact that Chinese leaders are given the red carpet treatment in Washington, while elected leaders from Taiwan are not even allowed to visit the US capital is still one of the most jarring images around. Why can’t US officials meet their counterparts from a democratic Taiwan, while large US delegations travel to Beijing to hobnob with counterparts in a rather repressive regime?