In an exclusive interview with the Taipei Times, a senior official in US President Barack Obama’s administration strongly denied that Washington had approved or knew anything about a Republic of China (ROC) national flag-raising ceremony at the Twin Oaks Estate in Washington on New Year’s Day.
He said the action undermines trust and puts symbolism ahead of real substance, leading many in Washington to ask: “Who in Taipei is in charge of the US-Taiwan relationship?”
The ROC national flag was raised on Thursday last week at the Twin Oaks Estate — the former residence of ROC ambassadors to the US — for the first time since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing 36 years ago, Representative to the US Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) said. He said the ceremony was made possible under a mutual understanding with the Obama administration.
During the ceremony, Shen conferred upon four ROC military personnel serving in the US the Medal of Merit and the Order of Loyalty and Diligence in recognition of their service.
Twin Oaks was the official residence of ROC ambassadors to the US from 1937 to 1978.
China has already protested to the US, asking Washington to respect its “one China” policy.
US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday said that the US “did not know about the flag-raising in advance.”
“We remain fully committed to the US’ ‘one China’ policy, based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act,” Psaki said.
A senior official from the Obama administration who is familiar with the situation agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
The source said that the Obama administration had not reached any understanding or consensus with Taiwan’s government to hold the ceremony, nor did the administration approved Taiwanese military personnel wearing their uniforms during the ceremony.
“Any claim to the contrary is incorrect,” the source said.
The senior official laid out seven points to delineate the Obama administration’s position, saying that the US is very disappointed with this action and that it has been so broadly publicized.
“It is a clear-cut violation of our bilateral understanding of our conduct of our unofficial relationship,” the source said.
He said that the action undermines trust and hurts the bilateral relationship after six years of major investment and a major success on the part of the Obama administration.
He said that the flag-raising puts symbolism ahead of real substance, “in a way that sets back our efforts to the development of this relationship.”
He said that many in Washington are now asking: “Who in Taipei is in charge of the US-Taiwan relationship?”
The Obama administration has expressed its serious concern to Taiwan’s government — in Taipei through the American Institute in Taiwan and in Washington through the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.
Shen is in Taiwan in response to a request from the Legislative Yuan — made last year before the incident — to attend a hearing scheduled for today.
The senior official said that the US government raised its serious concern in Taipei and Washington, and “Taiwan’s officials are just pointing fingers at each other.”
Some Taiwanese officials said in private that this incident might become the most confrontational issue between the US and Taiwan. Its long-term impact on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration — which has emphasized a surprise-free policy approach toward the US — remains unclear.
The senior official said during the interview that Washington hopes Ma will demonstrate the priorities he puts on this bilateral relationship by ensuring that these kind of things do not happen again.
“We hope we can shift the focus of the US-Taiwan relationship to an area in which progress is possible,” he said.
Ma lauded Shen after the ceremony and described the flag-raising as a foreign policy achievement.
The senior US official said that Obama administration’s major concern is that an action was taken that obviously violated the bilateral understanding, while Taiwan claimed that “[US officials] know about it and support it.”
He said that US is very careful when dealing with an issue like this.
The way the Taiwanese government handled the event and the comment made by Ma suggested “that our long-term understanding is now being violated,” the source said.
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