The release of the briefing provided by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) to the nation’s security-related officials on the latest US Defense Strategic Guidance was another sign of US preference in the coming presidential election, experts on US-Taiwan relations said yesterday.
In an apparent departure from its usual low-key style, the National Security Council (NSC), the organ established under the Presidential Office to advise the president on issues related to national security, on Friday issued a statement regarding the briefing.
Released to the press via the Presidential Office, it said that AIT officials explained at length the major shift in the US’ strategic military objectives outlined in the guidance and expressed the US’ commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region as well as a desire to cooperate with its allies, including Taiwan.
The NSC said in the statement that the US side, at the meeting, had described the briefing “as an exemplification of a very high degree of importance it has attached to our government.”
That raised concerns again that the US favors President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is running for re-election, over Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), an issue that has continued in the same vein since the “secret leak” to the Financial Times that the US mistrusts Tsai in her handling of cross-strait relations.
When reached for comment on the NSC’s publicizing this kind of meeting, Lin Chong-Pin (林中斌), a professor at Tamkang University, said the NSC, which serves as an advisory body to the president, normally avoids the media spotlight.
An NSC member from 2002 to 2003, during the previous DPP government, Lin said that public statements of the kind made by the NSC are usually made by other ministries.
It is a “worldwide practice” that diplomats brief officials in their host governments on their countries’ major policies, Lin said, adding that communication or exchange of ideas between the AIT and Taiwanese officials, including national security council officials, “happens on and off.”
Lin said he was not sure if the NSC had obtained the AIT’s consent before releasing the statement, but added that it would backfire “if we [Taiwan] do something unilaterally like this without AIT approval.”
In this case, if the AIT refrains from protesting, taking action to clarify the NSC statement or distancing itself from the announcement, “that implies that the AIT has given prior approval” and “that the US State Department ... representing the US government has known about it,” Lin said.
If that is the case, Lin said, it would imply “a gesture by Washington” that “it skillfully took a preference on the coming presidential election in Taiwan regarding the two sides.”
“I won’t say it was an outright expression of anything, but it was indirectly, or in a more subtle manner, Washington did make a gesture,” Lin said.
Yen Chen-shen (嚴震生), a research fellow at the Institution of International Relations of National Chengchi University, agreed.
The NSC statement, Taiwan’s nomination as a candidate for US visa-free status, the spate of visits by high-ranking US officials and many other incidents before that were “all gestures that were trying to kind of reinforce the impression that the US continues to support Taiwan and the current government’s non-confrontational policy [toward China],” he said.