The key for Taiwan in participating in international affairs is for the nation to focus on "substance" and ensure that its interests are protected, former US deputy national security adviser James Steinberg said in Taipei yesterday.
"Both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait spend an awful lot of time on [what are] ultimately meaningless issue like names. This is very unfortunate," Steinberg said during an address to the World Taiwanese Congress, a US-based organization advocating Taiwanese independence.
"I hope, between the administrations in Taipei and Washington, that we can really get ourselves focused on the things that are important and vital to the prosperity of Taiwan and spend less time on some of those things that have been back and forth in recent years," he said.
Steinberg made the comments during a Q&A session, where he was asked to comment on Taiwan's proposed referendum on applying for UN membership under the name "Taiwan."
Steinberg said he has some reservations about referendums as a tool of democracy.
"I [have] live[d] in California for all those years. I am not a fan of referendum and this has nothing to do with specifically this one [Taiwan's UN referendum]," he said.
Steinberg said supporting referendums and supporting democracy do not necessarily mean the same thing.
"There [is] a lot of anxiet[y] about direct democracy. There are balances to protect in the system," he said.
"So, some Americans are a little uncomfortable when [faced with] the accusation [that] because we don't support [a] referendum, somehow we are anti-democratic. I don't think it is [anti-democratic]," he said.
The US and Taiwan, instead, need to enhance communication, Steinberg said, adding that the US has strong support for the democracy in Taiwan.
Steinberg said it would be a mistake to assume that there is a special bond between Washington and Taipei because of Taiwan's geopolitical significance.
"The reason we do and the reason we have this kind of relationship with each other is not geopolitical but political, in the best sense, which is because of the value of democracy you have here," he said.
"And it is important for the US to make sure that this model works ... I see it very differently and I am pretty confident that our senior military advisers also see it differently," he said.
Asked if the US had ever accepted China's notion that Taiwanese independence means wars, Steinberg said the US "obviously reject[s] categorically the Chinese position that Taiwanese independence means war ... whatever approach ... Taiwanese [adopt]."