American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) deputy director David Keegan warned the country against changing the status quo, saying China's threats are real, while telling Beijing to refrain from using force or coercion.
Keegan was speaking in place of AIT director Douglas Paal at a symposium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, "The 25th Anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA): The future and prospects of US-Taiwan Relations."
Keegan was received by Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Hwang (
AIT spokesman Richard Shih (石瑞琦) dismissed a report in the Chinese-language media that Paal and Chen were absent because of the sensitive timing of a visit by Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiu I-jen (邱義仁) to the US.
"Their absence was purely coincidental. Both had to be away for other matters," Shih said.
Keegan reiterated the core principles of US policy toward Taiwan: that the US remains committed to its "one China" policy based on the three Joint Communiques and the TRA.
"While the US does not support changing the status quo as the US defines it, the US also strongly opposes the use of force or coercion by the PRC. It would, however, be irresponsible to treat these statements as empty threats," Keegan said.
"We look to President Chen [Shui-bian (陳水扁)] for responsible, democratic and restrained leadership," he said.
Keegan said that while the plan for a new constitution is not yet clear, the US will speak bluntly of its opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo.
However, Keegan also said the US is a strong supporter of Taiwan's participation in international organizations such as the World Health Organization and hopes that dialogue between two sides of the Taiwan Strait will resume soon.
Keegan's speech was largely a reiteration of US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia James Kelly's address to the House International Relations Committee last Wednesday.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Parris Chang (張旭成) said that both Keegan and Kelly stressed there had been no change in either US adherence to the TRA or its arms sales policy to Taiwan.
"Any improvement in the US-Taiwan relationship will hinge on the definition of `status quo,'" Chang said. "A mutual understanding of the term `status quo' requires further discussion."
Joanne Chang, (裘兆琳), a research fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of European and American Studies, was more optimistic.
"Over the past 25 years we have seen the growth of the Taiwan-US relationship through military, economic and political exchanges, and see it strengthening," she said.
"The `one China' policy has shown itself to be more flexible than we thought. It is time to rethink the framework on which US policy is based," Chang said, adding the "one China" policy cannot be a precondition for resuming cross-strait talks.
Richard Vuylsteke, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, said the TRA and US policy must be altered given that Taiwan has become a multi-party democracy since the lifting of Martial Law in 1987.
Vuylsteke said the TRA has been been a success over the past 25 years in that there has not been a war.
He said the changing global economy may also affect Taiwan-US relations.
Referring to Keegan's remark that Taiwan is the 8th-largest trading partner for the US, Vuylsteke said, "If Taiwan drops to the 12th or 14th position while China becomes the first, will that change the relationship between US and Taiwan? It is an issue we should think about. Economics is an important aspect of the whole picture."