The US has been consistent in taking no position regarding Taiwan’s political status, which is also a “self-position,” American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt said in Taipei yesterday.
The “non-position” has been consistent since 1979, the year the US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
“We take no position on the political status of Taiwan. That may sound like a dodge, but it’s a position. They [China] know and complain about it,” Burghardt said in a speech titled “The US and Taiwan: An important economic relationship” at the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.
Burghardt said it was unproductive to spend too much time on Taiwan’s status because “each way you go, you get yourself in more trouble, which is why the US position has been … taking no position.”
Stability in the Taiwan Strait will depend on open dialogue between Taipei and Beijing, free of coercion and consistent with Taiwan’s democracy, Burghardt said.
“To engage productively with the mainland [sic] at a pace and scope that is politically supportable by its people, Taiwan needs to be confident in its role in the international community, and that its future will be determined in accordance with the wishes of its people,” he said.
Burghardt said Washington understands that Taiwanese expect their leaders to maintain firm ties with the US and that the strong relationship made possible by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) was essential for progress in cross-strait relations.
“That political reality may not be universally understood, but there is no doubt about it in Taiwan. That link is also clearly understood in Washington,” Burghardt said.
Asked how the AIT reconciled the US administration’s apparent refusal to sell F16C/D fighter aircraft to Taiwan with his argument that the TRA underlines the strong US-Taiwan relationship, Burghardt said the sale had not been turned down.
“There has been no lag of notification of arms sales,” Burghardt said, referring to the US$6.4 billion arms package notified to US Congress in January, the US$320 million commercial sale announced in July and the US$6.5 billion package notified to Congress in October 2008.
Burghardt said that it was incorrect to say that the US was unwilling either to sell Taiwan F-16C/Ds or to upgrade its existing fleet of ageing F-16A/Bs.
“We haven’t announced the decision. We haven’t said yes or no, but it’s incorrect that it has been refused. I would say that judging the commitments with the TRA by how fast the decisions are made on the F-16C/D is a skewed analysis,” he said.
Citing his experience of working with the US Pacific Command at Hawaii, Burghardt said the TRA helps perpetuate the very special US-Taiwan relationship.
“It’s a relationship in which there is interaction every day at many fields, including all kinds of training activities, all kinds of exchanges of information and exchanges of intelligence. It is so much more than the sale of arms,” Burghardt said.