US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told a major conference on US-China relations that Washington retains a “very strong commitment” to Taiwan.
While acknowledging that US ties with Beijing were improving, he said: “There is a very strong commitment and appreciation for the tremendous achievements that the people of Taiwan have accomplished both in the economic and especially in the political sphere.”
Steinberg, a powerful US policymaker, was asked at the Wilson Center conference if the “passion” had gone out of US-Taiwan relations.
He replied: “It’s a dangerous road for me to go down, to talk about passion and diplomacy, but I would simply say that at its core, it is an unofficial relationship that we have with Taiwan.”
“We have enormous respect for the very vibrant, open, democracy that Taiwan has and so if Americans can be passionate about anything, it is continued commitment to our engagement through the Taiwan Relations Act and all of the other elements that are characterized in the unofficial relationship,” Steinberg said.
It was the strongest reassurance given by the administration of US President Barack Obama with respect to US commitments to Taiwan in some time, appearing to trump comments that came later and hinted at the possibility of the US halting arms sales to Taiwan.
Steinberg said it was crucial for the US to have close dialogue with China — particularly at the military-to-military level — so that the two countries could reassure each other “particularly in areas where there is some inherent ambiguity about the nature of our activities.”
“There are also risks as we go forward. No area is more potentially fraught with danger to the constructive, stable relationship, than the evolution of the Chinese military,” he said. “If we don’t talk to each other, the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding will be very high.”
“And so we place enormous importance on military-to-military dialogue and a broader security dialogue. We are encouraged that we seem poised to move back in a more constructive direction to begin re-engagement on that front,” he said.
Yuan Ming (袁明), a professor at Peking University, was unable to attend the conference as planned because of an injury suffered in a recent car accident.
However, in her prepared remarks read at the conference, she said: “The special issue of arms sales to Taiwan remains a hard knot to untie.”
Yuan said that if the US failed to take steps “to loosen the knot,” it would invite sharp criticism from the Chinese people, especially the younger generation.
If something was not done about the arms sales, “the military-to-military dialogue should be quite a full dialogue,” she said.
“I am trying to perceive what Yuan Ming meant about Taiwan,” retired US Admiral Eric McVadon said. “I wonder if it might be time — with this good relationship between the presidents of the US and China — to have more candor on the Taiwan issue. Can we move to a point of agreeing to disagree, with both sides being militarily ready, but at the same time with the easing of relations that you don’t have to worry quite as much? Can we try to put the Taiwan issue behind us a little bit, or at least keep it from coming to the fore. Was Yuan Ming alluding to such a thing?”
“We do have to address the Taiwan arms question, it’s time to do that,” said Douglas Paal, vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan.