A former envoy to Washington yesterday said the absence of two senior US officials at an annual defense conference between Taiwan and the US was attributable to a protest voyage to the contested Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) by Taiwanese fishermen, while a top defense official denied any relationship between the events.
The executive director of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Policy Research Committee, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), attended the Taiwan-US Defense Industry Conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and told a press conference that, based on his understanding, the absence of US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell were due to the dispute with Japan over the islands and the ensuing water cannon battle between Taiwanese and Japanese coast guard vessels.
“Since Japan has been a long-time ally of the US, Taiwan’s recent moves [over the dispute] are perceived as a challenge to US interests in East Asia,” Wu said. “This has given rise to speculation that Taiwan and China may be teaming up on the matter, given the similarities between the actions taken by both sides.”
Contacted by the Taipei Times for comment yesterday, Wu accused President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of withholding the truth.
“Ma is lying and he should stop doing so. The pullout [by US officials] is precisely because of his actions over the Senkakus [as the Diaoyutais are known in Japan],” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖), who led the Taiwanese delegation to the conference, said all the “speculation” was only a friendly reminder to Taiwan that it should refrain from being “antagonistic.”
“I responded [to their reminder] by pointing out that the Ministry of National Defense and Coast Guard Administration only worked in accordance with tasks given by the National Security Council. They neither went beyond the given instructions, nor did they impair the country’s tacit understanding with Japan,” Yang said, adding that there was no consultation between Taipei and Beijing on the Diaoyutais issue.
Commenting on the unexpected absence of the two senior US officials, Yang said he was only informed prior to his departure by the host organization that they could not attend the event.
“However, the American Institute in Taiwan clarified in a telephone call on Friday that the decision had absolutely nothing to with our attendance at the event and made no mention of Taiwan’s handling of the Diaoyutais,” Yang said.
Yang said he was scheduled to visit the White House and a number of senior US officials today before heading back to Taiwan. According to sources, Yang is also scheduled to meet Lippert.
The US State Department said on its Web site that the conference was a private industry event and not an official event.
“A senior-level State Department official was not available to speak at this event due to scheduling conflicts. However, several State Department representatives are attending,” it said, without identifying them.
“The State Department has regular and robust interactions with Taiwan authorities at various levels. Our channels of communication and our cooperation with Taiwan remain significant, consistent with long-standing US policy,” it said.
Additional reporting by J. Michael Cole