A recently released WikiLeaks cable revealed what constituted a “surprise-free” approach adopted by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in dealing with Taiwan-US relations, the contents of which drew mixed views from Taiwanese lawmakers.
According to the cable dated March 20, 2009, one year after Ma assumed office, the president made some promises to Washington regarding his pledge of “no surprises” in Taipei’s relationship with the US.
The cable said that American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt provided three examples that Ma had given him to demonstrate his commitments: “Taiwan would not ask for a certain kind of transit just to show that the US would grant it; Taiwan would not ask for certain weapons systems just to show the US would sell them; and Taiwan would not insist on certain names just for domestic political considerations.”
The cable, released by the US embassy in Bangkok, recorded a meeting between Burghardt and then-foreign minister Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) on March 18, 2009.
At the meeting, Burghardt expressed his appreciation for Ma’s pledge of “no surprises” in the US-Taiwan relationship as well as the president’s “emphasis on substance over show,” the cable said, but it did not elaborate on the three examples Burghardt cited.
The cable indicated that Ou assured Burghardt that the Ma administration was different from previous president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration.
Ou told Burghardt that their relationship needed to be strong so Taiwan could negotiate with China from a position of confidence and added that achieving an extradition agreement, visa waivers and free-trade agreement were Taipei’s three goals for relations in order of priority, the cable showed.
Asked to comment, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Peng Shao-chin (彭紹瑾) said the second example noted in the cable could explain why no progress was made in Taiwan’s request to buy F-16C/D jets and diesel submarines.
“Could it be that the appeal for a US arms sale publicly made by Ma several times was just for show? I wonder if it was because of the US’ reluctance or Taiwan’s lack of interest that there has been no progress made in the arms deals,” Peng said.
Showing disapproval of the promises made by Ma as alleged in the WikiLeaks cable, Peng said that a self-limiting approach left the impression that Taiwan did not consider the issues important.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), on the other hand, said Ma had no choice but to make some promises to the US because there had been an absence of mutual trust in US-Taiwan relations at the time because of the Chen administration’s policies.
“The biggest issue for President Ma when he assumed office was to repair Taiwan-US relations and to rebuild mutual trust. Without these, nothing can be achieved. Given the importance of China, Taiwan would not benefit if it forced the US to take sides between Taiwan and China. That’s why President Ma chose not to be a troublemaker,” Lin said.
Lin added that Ma has succeeded in restoring friendship between Taiwan and the US, citing approval of the US$6.4 billion arms-sale package announced early last year, support for Taiwanese participation in the WHO amid the naming controversy and the recently held hearing in the US House of Representatives where US lawmakers called for the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan.
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