Relations between the US and Taiwan are at a “critical juncture,” former US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said on Thursday.
She was speaking at a conference held in a congressional briefing room to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) by then-US president Jimmy Carter.
“We must admit that, in many ways, the United States is not fulfilling the promise of the TRA and that we are not supporting Taiwan, its democracy and the human rights of its people to the best of our ability,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Her words came in stark contrast to the speeches and testimony of officials from the administration of US President Barack Obama, who maintain that relations with Taipei could not be better.
China’s continued economic rise and Taiwan’s increasing reliance on China as a trading partner threatens Taiwan’s economic and political flexibility, Ros-Lehtinen told the conference organized by the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA).
“The current protests in Taiwan are about this lack of flexibility — they are about fear that the service trade agreement with China, part of the larger Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement [ECFA], will serve only to increase Chinese control over Taiwan,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Without greater economic flexibility like that which would be achieved by a US-Taiwan free-trade agreement, China would have even greater economic, political and strategic leverage, she said.
Ros-Lehtinen said that US appeasement of China, in addition to missile launches by North Korea and the “feeble response” by the Obama administration to violations of international sanctions, “calls into question US resolve.”
Washington should increase trade ties, support Taiwan’s participation in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and provide essential defense materials, she said.
She added that Obama had not been paying attention to Taiwan and lacked strategic vision in Asia.
“It is unacceptable that the administration continues to delay, dissemble and appease China when it comes to fulfilling its obligations to Taiwan, whether in the TRA or its failure to reassess and update policies to respond to new developments in the region,” she said.
Ros-Lehtinen said that Taiwan’s economic independence is key to deterring soft Chinese coercion.
“Yet, the administration refuses to commit to help Taiwan join the TPP or move toward a bilateral investment agreement with the US that would go a long way toward giving Taiwan that independence,” she said.
“Let’s keep working together, we can get this done,” Ros-Lehtinen said to FAPA officials.
The House’s Asia subcommittee chairman Steve Chabot — one of the founders of the Taiwan Caucus — said Taiwan was a “role model” for many countries, also China.
“It is so important that Taiwan continues to strengthen its defense systems, whether it is with submarines or missile defense systems or fighter aircraft. But it must do it,” he said.
FAPA president Mark Kao (高龍榮) said that over the past few years President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had worked toward rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait.
“The problem is that in the process he has given Beijing the wrong impression that its objective of absorbing Taiwan is within reach. This is a false premise that is detrimental to Taiwan and its sovereignty,” Kao said.