Raymond Burghardt, the man widely expected to take over the chairmanship of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said on Tuesday that the success of Taiwanese officials in Washington in building bridges to the administration of President George W. Bush and other policy centers in the US capital has resulted in the job being changed to a part-time position.
Burghardt, the director of East-West Seminars at the East-West Center in Hawaii, told the Taipei Times that the idea to downgrade the AIT chairmanship was the State Department's.
"The suggestion from the State Department was that whoever does it from now on, it's going to be a part-time job," Burghardt said in a telephone interview from his Hawaii office.
For the past quarter of a century, the AIT has played a key role as the intermediary between the US government and Taiwan under the unofficial relationship created by the Taiwan Relations Act in the wake of US diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China in 1978.
The arrangement was a seat-of-the-pants response to the US' termination of recognition of Taiwan in the face of the deep and widespread support Taiwan enjoyed among Americans at the time.
Over the years, the AIT and its Washington office have played a unique role among diplomatic circles in the US, carrying out a convoluted role in what has been described as an alternative State Department solely for Taiwan affairs, with its own rules as a non-nation treated as a nation.
However, much has changed in recent years, Burghardt said.
"As the Taiwanese representatives have more and more direct access to people in Washington, the whole intermediary function [of AIT] is no longer necessary. It's not something that should be a full-time job," he said.
Burghardt denied that the change was as a blow for Taiwan in view of strained relations between the government of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Washington in recent years.
"That would be a perverse interpretation," he said, "because it would miss the point, which is that Taiwan's office in Washington now has much better access to the policy community in Washington, and therefore that is an upgrading, really, of its standing in Washington."
Burghardt said the transition toward upgrading the office, officially known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US (TECRO), has happened over the past few years.
He credited much of the improvement to the former TECRO chief, Chen Chien-jen (
If selected to be the chairman, Burghardt plans to remain based in Honolulu, ready to travel to Washington or Taipei as needed. In Washington, the current acting head of the AIT office, Barbara Schrage, would assume the title of managing director and conduct day-to-day affairs. Burghardt would come to Washington for ceremonial appearances, other diplomatic necessities and special occasions.
If another candidate is selected for the job, he or she would play a similar role, Burghardt said.
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