Economic and trade relations with China should not be an issue for the people of Taiwan in asserting their own identity, as opposed to being Chinese, former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairwoman Therese Shaheen said yesterday.
Shaheen is now the president and chief operating officer of US-Asia Commercial Development Corp, an information and communications technology firm.
She resigned as AIT chairwoman in April 2004.
Giving a speech titled "Why Taiwan Matters" in Taipei yesterday, Shaheen gave her perspective on how the US' trade relations with the UK and Canada haven't prevented the American people from distinguishing themselves as Americans, despite sharing cultural similarities with the English-speaking countries.
In the same vein, Shaheen said that although Taiwan has robust trade relations with China, it is like many other countries where the citizens are made up of immigrants from different parts of the world, and therefore it should not be an issue for the people of Taiwan to have a distinctive culture, identity and customs.
"I have a hard time seeing what the issue is here when people talk about being Taiwanese as opposed to being Chinese. I don't see this argument," she said.
Shaheen yesterday began her talk by pinning down the importance of Taiwan as a source of the world's most sophisticated semiconductors and high-tech products.
"If something happens to Taiwan, it's as if you might also have a nuclear bomb go off in Saudi Arabia. It would take years to replace this source, because there is no second sourcing. People accuse the United States of going to the Middle East so [it] can protect Middle East oil. Then what should [the US] be doing about Taiwan? [Taiwan] makes all these [semiconductors] now. The most sophisticated semiconductors in the world are made here. Nobody else makes them," Shaheen said.
In answering a question regarding Shaheen's previous comments about Taiwan not needing to buy submarines, the former AIT chief said the context of the issue from the US government's standpoint is that submarines may not be the priority that Taiwan needs to purchase in order to operate jointly with the US in a military action.
Shaheen said that because the US was frustrated about Taiwan's domestic disagreements over buying the submarines, which has stalled the arms procurement budget in the legislature, Washington has prioritized other systems for Taiwan to buy, such as communication systems, so that the Taiwanese military could communicate more effectively with the US.
Because of the military danger across the Strait and the fact that the submarines take time to build, the US government thinks the submarines would not address the most immediate problem, she said.
Still, she emphasized the US government's position that it was willing to sell submarines to Taiwan, but added "in any case, I still believe that these other systems in command-and-control would help the Taiwan[ese] and US militaries communicate better and relate together most effectively. With the limited resources, it is important to develop those things first."