American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Ray Burghardt said on Tuesday that the US had never interfered in direct Taiwan-China negotiations and would never do so.
“We have always maintained the firm belief that only the political leaders in Taiwan can judge the topics, the pace and the timing of what they talk about with the other side,” he said.
Burghardt, the keynote speaker at a Washington seminar on China-Taiwan-US relations, said Taipei’s political leaders were the only ones who could make decisions about opening political talks with Beijing.
An academic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, Bonnie Glaser, said a “narrative” persisted that one of the reasons President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was reluctant to accelerate the pace of discussions with China on sensitive political issues and military confidence building measures (CBM) was because the US opposed such an agenda.
“It would be wrong for the US or any other outside country to second-guess those elected leaders on whether they should take up CBMs,” Burghardt said.
“It would be totally inappropriate, presumptuous really, for outside countries to suggest to Taiwanese leaders what or when or where they should talk,” he said.
Burghardt, his voice raising for emphasis, said: “Under no circumstances has the US ever discouraged in any way directly or subtly or implicitly, in no way have we ever cautioned Taiwan ‘we don’t want you to talk about this or that.’”
“Never, ever,” he added.
The seminar was jointly organized by CSIS and the Brookings Institution, also in Washington.
Burghardt said that in the early days of the Taiwan-US relationship there was a tendency in Washington to treat Taiwan as an “issue” or as an “annoying problem.”
However, since then the relationship had become “close and serious, and important.”
Burghardt said Washington’s current national security team gave Taiwan more time and treated it with more “interest and respect” than any other he had worked with over the years.
“I give a lot of credit to former assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell for his leadership establishing that kind of relationship and that kind of improvement,” Burghardt said.
He said that the US now briefs Taiwan on high-level meetings with the China and on the overall US strategy toward Asia.
At the same time, he said, Taipei briefed the US on “various channels of communication with Beijing.”
Burghardt said the US military relationship with Taiwan was “stronger than ever.”
“In the past year I have participated in more military interactions than I can count,” he said.
The military relationship, he said, included joint assessment and analysis of what Taiwan needed to maintain its deterrent capability, including high-tech and low-tech items.
“It’s not only things you might buy, but it includes things you might make yourself,” he said.
Taiwan was getting better every year at the indigenous manufacture of weapons.
Asked what it would take for “unification to happen,” Burghardt said that within Taiwan there was a deep-seated sense of separate identity and this issue would have to be addressed by “anyone who contemplated the idea of unification.”
He said that he did not “buy the scenario” that the human rights situation or democracy within Taiwan had eroded over the last few years.
Burghardt said one of the most important things the US could do for Taiwan was to help the nation with its “deterrence capability” to make coercion more difficult.
He said Taiwan should be strong enough to defend itself against a blockade or an invasion for a sufficient period of time to “give pause to someone contemplating such hostility.”
This was, he said, an important aspect of giving Taiwan the confidence to negotiate from a position of strength.
Burghardt said there would be no continuing improvement in cross-strait relations unless Taiwan felt confident in its own security.
“If you want to stop cross-strait progress, the fastest way to bring it to a halt would be to remove Taiwan’s sense of security and sense of deterrent capability. Beijing is never going to accept that logic, but we believe it deeply, as does Taiwan,” Burghardt said.