American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt will press hard for a breakthrough in the US-Taiwan beef dispute when he arrives in Taipei for private talks with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) today.
Sources close to Burghardt said the beef issue would “most likely” top his agenda, while Ma was expected to concentrate on the possible future sale of F-16C/D aircraft and US help in acquiring diesel-electric submarines.
The sources said that beyond assuring Ma that the sale of F-16s was still under consideration, Burghardt would have little new to say about arms sales.
One source stressed that Burghardt himself was under pressure and that he had told Taipei in advance of his visit that there were trade issues he hoped would be dealt with “early on” in Ma’s second term.
Burghardt will be in Taiwan until Thursday, his 12th visit since his appointment as AIT chairman in February 2006.
Both the US Congress and the administration of US President Barack Obama want to proceed with Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks with Taiwan, but there can be no real progress until the beef problem is settled.
The possibility of Taiwan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to enhance trade and investment among partner countries will also be raised in the Burghardt-Ma talks.
While TPP membership for Taiwan might be a long shot, some trade experts believe it could be possible in the next six to 10 years, but again, immediate progress will depend on solving the beef issue.
Ma on Wednesday reiterated during a visit to Greater Kaohsiung that his administration would strive to make Taiwan a part of the TPP within the next decade.
“I would hope that Burghardt tries to get a serious read on what Ma’s US policy will be,” another Washington-based source said.
“Some have voiced concern about Ma’s China-leaning and in light of the US pivot to Asia, it is an important question,” the source said. “Is Ma as concerned about China as the rest of the region and wanting to have a balanced relationship or is he leaning China’s way and less concerned about the US?”
During his Taiwan visit, Burghardt will also meet Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson and former presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
While he is not expected to discuss policy issues with her, he might use the occasion to again insist that the US was neutral in the election and would have worked closely with her if she had won.
Additional reporting by CNA