Major US statement expected

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

Tue, Feb 09, 2016 - Page 1

The administration of US President Barack Obama may be working on a major new statement concerning Taiwan, with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Susan Thornton expected to read the statement when she testifies before the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on Thursday, a policy expert said.

The subcommittee hearing on “The Future of US-Taiwan Relations” will also hear testimony from Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) senior adviser Bonnie Glaser and from Project 2049 Institute president Randall Schriver.

“There will be an administration official who will be giving what I think is likely to be a very important, comprehensive statement on Taiwan,” Glaser said.

She was speaking at a CSIS briefing on Friday last week on “Taiwan’s Path Forward.”

Glaser said she remembered years ago when then-US assistant secretary of state for East Asia James Kelly gave a statement before the subcommittee that became a “centerpiece” and the most important statement on US policy toward Taiwan “for many years to come.”

The Taipei Times was unable to get a comment from the US Department of State on Thornton’s upcoming testimony.

However, a former State Department official said it was unlikely that Thornton’s testimony would contain any change in US policy.

He said it was more likely it would simply clarify well-established US policy positions as president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) prepared to take over in Taipei.

In April 2004, Kelly told the subcommittee that the US remained committed to the “one China” policy based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act.

He said the US does not support independence for Taiwan or unilateral moves that would change the “status quo.”

Kelly said the US would continue the sale of appropriate defensive military equipment to Taiwan and would view any use of force against Taiwan with grave concern.

At the CSIS event, Glaser said that maintaining the “status quo” with China would be essential if Tsai hoped to achieve her domestic political goals.

Beijing’s reaction to Tsai’s election had been “fairly calm” and Tsai was trying to provide China with some assurances, Glaser said.

It remains to be seen if Tsai would go far enough to satisfy Beijing, Glaser added.

She cited three possible scenarios for Taiwan “going forward” under a new Democratic Progressive Party regime.

The best-case scenario would be for both sides to agree on a formula that would keep cross-strait channels open and include continued economic progress, she said.

A second scenario was for China to “hunker down,” refuse to be flexible and put on pressure. In that case, China might “steal” Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and pressure other countries not to negotiate trade deals with Taipei.

These actions could precipitate a negative reaction from Tsai and under domestic political pressure Tsai might be compelled to explicitly defend Taiwan’s sovereignty.

“In this scenario I think the US would take measures to help and protect Taiwan,” Glaser said.

The third and least likely scenario would involve Tsai initiating provocative actions and China reacting harshly, Glaser said, adding that she was worried about China taking Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.

“It could result in a negative spiral,” she said.

Glaser added that Chinese officials were “really worried” about Taiwan reaching out to Japan and strengthening that relationship particularly in security terms.

Asked if China and Taiwan were likely to reach a compromise over the so-called “1992 consensus,” Glaser said the two sides were just at the beginning of the process and the US was encouraging them to provide each other with reassurances.

She said that ultimately, China would have to deal with the new government in Taiwan and that it could not expect everything to be the same.

“There has been a change of government and Taiwan is a democracy and new governments don’t come in and inherit the existing set of policies and do nothing new,” she said. “This is something Beijing has to become a little more comfortable with.”