William Stanton, the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), gave a speech at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University (國立政治大學) this morning. He addressed the topic of US-Taiwan relations highlighting the close ties between the two countries especially in the areas of education, trade and military exchanges.
Last week Taiwan lifted a ban on US beef imports that had been in place since 2003. This topic seems to be of great interest to the Taiwanese media and there were cameras from a number of Taiwan television stations present. (All the cameras left immediately after Stanton commented on the beef issue.)
Stanton addressed the beef issue early in his talk saying, “There’s never been one case of any person getting Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease from eating US beef. I’d like to point out in contrast that in 2008 1,034 people tragically lost their lives riding motorscooters in Taiwan. There really is no risk eating US beef.” He added that more than 50 countries in the world import US beef.
Stanton went on to discuss the close ties that exist between the US and Taiwan. He highlighted education and trade as key areas. The US has more trade with Taiwan than it does with India, Spain, Italy and Singapore. He noted Taiwan was once the largest source of foreign students for the US. It is currently ranked sixth even though it only has 23 million people.
Stanton noted the improvement in cross-strait ties. He said, “We believe that the improved relationship fosters stability. It makes Taiwan a more attractive place to invest and do business.”
Stanton said that improved cross-strait relations, “avoids the risk of miscalculation and potential conflict.” He added that, “The nature, the scope and the pace of that relationship is for the people of Taiwan to decide. Despite the warming trend, Taiwan’s sense of security — whether politically, economically or militarily — is certainly not as strong as it should be. Taiwan, in order to feel secure, needs friends and the United States will continue to be a dependable friend to Taiwan.”
This led to the security issue. Stanton said US policy is, “based on the Taiwan Relations Act which commits the United States to ensuring sufficient self-defense capability for Taiwan. We’re not going to waiver in that commitment.” The issue of F-16’s was still under discussion, but he said that one year ago the US concluded a US$6.4 billion deal which provided Apache helicopters, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Harpoon missiles for ships, upgrades to the E-2 reconnaissance aircraft, Patriot PAC-3 missiles and also aircraft spare parts.
Stanton then emphasised that the security relationship was not just about weapons sales. He said, “It’s an ongoing dialogue. We have regular exchanges between our militaries.” He noted that some Taiwanese military personnel were receiving training and education in the United States.
Questions following Stanton’s talk gave NCCU students a great chance to ask a high ranking US diplomat about key issues in the US-Taiwan relationship.
A diplomacy student from the US asked what the US could learn from Taiwan’s development. He said that Taiwan’s healthcare system could be a model for the US.
Stanton replied, “The biggest lesson from Taiwan is the theme that President Obama is stressing, the need for education. A decision that Taiwan made early on was intensive high-level education and it has been a great formula for success.” On healthcare he said he personally supported the program President Obama was working on. He also cited a personal example of the high costs his daughter had faced for basic medical treatment in the US.
An exchange student from China said that Taiwan officials had said that Taiwan would be a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker in the Asia-Pacific region. However, the US arm sales to Taiwan contribute a potential threat that would make Taiwan a troublemaker.
On the US arms sales Stanton said, “It’s a two-way street. There are somewhere between a 1,000 and 1,400 missiles along the Chinese coast aimed at Taiwan. Taiwan feels very vulnerable. The mainland* has never given up its policy of saying it would strike if independence were declared.”
“There hasn’t been much done by the mainland to reassure the people of Taiwan. It’s a US policy going back 30 years that we will support the self defense of Taiwan. The principle issue is the relationship between Taiwan and the mainland and the sense of threat that people here feel.”
*This is a direct quote. Mainland obviously refers to China.