Long-standing assumptions about US intervention in the Taiwan Strait may be being reconsidered, former chairwoman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Therese Shaheen said on Thursday, even as many analysts believe that recent comments from senior US officials indicate a change in the Bush administration's stance on Taiwan.
In an exclusive interview with the Taipei Times, Shaheen said that the Legislative Yuan's delay in passing the NT$610.8 billion special arms budget was "a major problem" for many senior defense officials.
She denied, however, that the purpose of her trip to Taiwan was to lobby for the special arms deal, or that she or any of her family members had any business interests tied to the defense industry.
"I want to be very clear about this: My company has nothing to do with the special arms deal or any arms sales at all," Shaheen, who is now the president and chief operating officer of US-Asia Commercial Development Corp, said. US-Asia is primarily an information and communications technology firm, she added.
A defense industry source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Shaheen's assertion.
US-Asia has never been in the defense industry or sold any defense-related technology to Taiwan, the source said. He said that IT infrastructure was by its very nature dual-use (usable by both civilian industries and the military) technology, but US-Asia's business had not been with the military.
Shaheen, who still maintains high-level contacts with the government in Taiwan, also denied allegations that she was "in the pocket of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)."
"I believe Taiwan has everything to gain from a strong multi-party system," she said. Her support for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his administration when she was the head of AIT was for two reasons, she said.
The first was her belief that Taiwan, as a thriving democracy, was being mistreated in the international community.
"Even Iraq under Saddam got better treatment than Taiwan," she said, referring to the fact that Iraq, even after the 1991 Gulf War, was a member of the UN.
"Is that right? Is this how the world community is supposed to treat a democracy?"
The second reason she had been outspoken in support of the Chen administration was because of how impressed she was by its integrity.
"I have been traveling to Taiwan since 1988," she said. "You have no idea how corrupt things used to be. The Chen administration has been different. And in my dealings with him he has shown a great deal of integrity. When he said he would do something, he would do it."
However, Taiwan's democratization is something that has not fully been grasped by many people in Washington. Shaheen used the arms deal as an example to illustrate her point.
"Before, when the US would approve weapons systems for Taiwan, the KMT administration would just buy it. The US defense industry liked that. Things are different now. Taiwan is a democracy, and the ruling party can't just do whatever it wants. There has to be a debate, and this hasn't really sunk in with some US officials," Shaheen said.
The reason that the special arms budget had become a stumbling block in US-Taiwan relations was because some had "completely misinterpreted" what had been happening in Taiwan since the Chen administration came to power, she said.