The US is not being fully informed and briefed by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration about Taipei’s direct negotiations with Beijing.
This surprising situation was revealed on Wednesday by Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
In an address to a conference at The George Washington University on “US-Taiwan Political Relations,” Glaser said that although US-Taiwan communications had been relatively smooth: “US officials have not always felt that they have been fully informed about the depth and breadth of Taiwan’s consultations and negotiations with the mainland.”
Several of those at the conference said later that it was the first time they had heard such a complaint and that the Ma administration had gone out of its way to paint the relationship with Washington as particularly rosy.
Glaser said Ma’s initial objective for US-Taiwan relations was not very ambitious.
Ma wanted to restore trust and promised “there would be no surprises and that he would keep the United States informed about Taiwan’s policy,” she said.
“The goal of restoring trust was achieved relatively quickly, but that is not to imply that there have been no problems,” she said.
Glaser said when Taiwan discussed its bid to become an observer at the World Health Assembly, the details were not shared with the US and this was also true of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) negotiations.
“In both of these instances, the United States was fully supportive of the goal and the outcome that was achieved and it was not mistrustful of the government in Taipei,” she said.
Asked to expand on the comments she made in her speech, Glaser said: “It is my understanding that officials of the [US President Barack] Obama administration are not worried about what is taking place in conversations or exchanges between Taiwan and the mainland.”
“It is not an issue of being mistrustful of Taiwan,” she said.
“My understanding is that they [the Obama administration] just like to be more informed. Part of this may be oversight, there really is so much going on between Taiwan and the mainland [China],” she said.
“Obviously, Taiwan’s government is keeping track of all this, but sometimes there is compartmentalization or lack of coordination and I think the United States would like to know more about what is going on, on a range of issues,” Glaser said.
“I really want to underscore, I don’t think it has anything to do with mistrust. It is a desire to be well informed and early on. It was pretty late in the game before the United States was fully briefed on ECFA,” she said.
Glaser said in her speech that during the administration of former US president George W. Bush, there had been concern that the growing importance of China would make the US less willing to sell arms to Taiwan and more willing to sacrifice Taiwan’s interest to obtain China’s help, for example, in restraining North Korea.
“Both the Bush, and subsequently the Obama, administration approved large packages of weapons to Taiwan even though they knew that Beijing would suspend the US-China military relationship and take other punitive actions,” she said.
“No decision has yet been made on some of Taiwan’s requests — for example the F-16C/Ds and the request for submarines is still on the table. Undoubtedly, China’s possible response will factor into those decisions and into others. The China factor is apparent in policy deliberations concerning Taiwan and it will likely grow in importance in the future,” she said.
“But I would argue that so far, the rise of China has not led the United States to permanently forgo steps in US-Taiwan relations that the PRC would not like. F-16s could be the exception — I hope not,” Glaser said.
She said no deals had been made with Beijing “over Taiwan’s head” and that Taiwan’s interests had not been harmed.
In fact, it could be argued that developments across the Taiwan Strait in the past two years had at least as much if not greater impact on the US-Taiwan relationship than the growing importance of China, she said.
“The fact that there is peace in the Taiwan Strait is overwhelmingly positive for American interests, but it also means that Taiwan is, for the most part, off the radar screen of American decision makers,” Glaser said.
“That has not been beneficial for the bilateral relationship. I suspect that apart from the decision to approve arms sales to Taiwan earlier this year, President Obama and senior members of his Cabinet have not thought much about Taiwan and its importance to the United States,” she said.
“In the current period of decline in cross-strait tensions, fewer initiatives are being taken. There is a risk that the US--Taiwan relationship begins to drift as neither government is paying sufficient attention to ensuring that it is robust,” she said.
Glasser warned that China’s military buildup against Taiwan continued unabated and that discussion of this issue in US circles, including US Congress, was less prevalent than several years ago when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power.
“Perhaps this can be explained,” she said, “by the fact that the improvement in cross-strait relations has increased confidence that military force won’t be used by China. And that may be valid.”
“Nonetheless, this could lead to the impression over time that the United States is willing to put Taiwan’s security in the hands of Beijing, which could create doubts in Taiwan about the reliability of the United States to stand by its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act,” she said.
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