With US Secretary of State John Kerry in Asia this weekend, a panel of Capitol Hill foreign affairs staffers warned that Taiwan had slipped off the US congressional agenda.
Defense policy adviser Eric Sayers, a member of Virginia Republican Representative Randy Forbes’ staff, said that Taiwan was not mentioned often on Capitol Hill because Taipei had established such a close relationship with Beijing.
“That is not necessarily a good thing because there are some shortfalls going on in terms of arms sales,” he said.
Addressing a Heritage Foundation symposium on the view of Asia this year from Washington, Sayers said that arms sales to Taiwan were winning less attention than in the past.
When Taiwan was considered to be a hot issue, arms sales generated “broader strength” from senators and representatives willing to speak publicly about Taiwan’s need for new F-16s, he said
The symposium, held every year to give key congressional staffers an opportunity to directly address Asian issues, came as Heritage research fellow in Chinese political and security affairs Dean Cheng (成斌) released a study paper on Kerry’s Asia trip.
A senior member of the Republican staff on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Carolyn Leddy, said that Taiwan had suffered as a result of staff and political changes on Capitol Hill.
“I think Taiwan not being part of the discussion goes back to a lot of change on the Hill,” she said.
Leddy said that many “old guard” members and staff who were well-informed about Taiwan issues had gone. And they had been replaced by a “new generation” that had not been “sensitized” to the Taiwan issue.
“That is one of the key things, Taiwan is not a bigger talking point on the Hill right now because folks are not sensitized or educated enough about it,” she said.
Director of Asian studies at Heritage Walter Lohman asked what the “average” new staffer or member thought about Taiwan.
Sayer said there was a general lack of knowledge and experience and because Taiwan was “quiet” it had “slipped under the radar.”
He said that think tanks should spend more time forcing discussions on such issues as Taiwan.
In his study, Cheng said that Kerry would only spend “one day apiece” in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo and that it was likely the visit would be dominated by the North Korean crisis.
He emphasized that ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, territorial disputes over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), Chinese behavior in the South China Sea and Chinese hacking all needed attention.
“On this first visit to Asia, Secretary Kerry’s every word and action will be carefully assessed by America’s friends and enemies,” Cheng said.
“Kerry should make clear, in meetings and any public remarks, that the US remains faithful to its commitment to regional security and regional free trade,” he said.
“Given the importance of the region and the myriad of issues confronting the region and the US, one would have expected the Secretary of State to have devoted more time to his first visit,” he said.
“Because of his tepid stance toward the pivot and because he has filled so few of the supporting positions at the State Department, there is no evidence of an overarching strategic goal or template guiding this visit or his Asia policy in general,” Cheng added.