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Remarks by Director Raymond F. Burghardt, American Institute in Taiwan, to the Annual Meeting of the Society for Strategic Studies

BG0010E | Date: 2000-04-10

Society for Strategic Studies President Kong-shin Shah, distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen:

My talk to you today is the first public speech that I have made since the voters of Taiwan chose a new president on March 18. I would like to take this opportunity to express my admiration to the people of Taiwan. This election truly demonstrates the strength and vitality of the democratic system that Taiwan has built. It is clear that Taiwan's citizens take very seriously the privilege of choosing a leader, with nearly 82 percent of the eligible voters having cast their ballots. This sense of responsibility and participation provides a strong foundation for Taiwan's democratic society.

As you know, the whole world was watching as Taiwan's voters went to the polls on March 18. Observers and scholars from around the world concentrated their attention on Taiwan.

For our part, we at the American Institute in Taiwan did our best to deliver the message that the United States did not favor one candidate over another. The United States has been prepared all along to work with whomever the people of Taiwan would choose to be their next President and Vice President. We will focus on the policies the newly elected President will pursue, and balance those policies against America's fundamental interests in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. We do not expect to agree on every issue, but we are prepared to discuss and resolve our differences in a spirit of friendship.

The United States, while declining to support or oppose any of the candidates, was well aware of the heightened tension and concern on both sides of the Taiwan Strait before the election. America hoped the PRC and Taiwan would refrain from actions or statements that would increase tensions or make dialogue more difficult to achieve. We urged both sides to take positive steps to foster dialogue, to reduce tensions, to emphasize peaceful resolution of differences, and to promote mutual understanding.

Then the level of concern rose even higher in February, when Beijing's White Paper was published. We were very encouraged by Taiwan's measured, reasoned response to that documents. We were equally encouraged to see that all three major presidential candidates expressed their support for stable cross-Strait relations before and after the publication of the White Paper.

Even now, two weeks after the election, the spotlight is still on Taiwan. Observers around the world are waiting to see who will be part of the new President's leadership team. Even more important, Taiwan is preparing to take a step that has proven difficult for other young democracies - that is, the first peaceful transfer of authority from the elected leader of one party to another. Based on the thoughtful, positive statements that President-elect Chen and the current KMT leadership have made so far, I have every reason to believe that Taiwan will succeed in this historic handover. My staff and I at the American Institute in Taiwan look forward to working with President Chen, Vice President Lu, and their advisers.

At the end of his visit to Taiwan last week, former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton emphasized how impressed he has been with the vitality of Taiwan's democratic system and how much he admired what the people of Taiwan have achieved. He was prepared to carry back a positive report to the President and Congress upon his return to the United States.

However, Mr. Hamilton also noted the challenges that face Taiwan the United States, and the PRC in preserving peace, stability, and prosperity in East Asia.

The United States is takes seriously the fact that what happens across the Taiwan Strait can affect the atmosphere in the Asia-Pacific region. And now, at the beginning of the so-called "Pacific Century," what happens in this region can affect the entire world.

In our foreign policy, the United States maintains a strong commitment to the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region, for we too are a member of the Pacific community. We believe that American presence, America's active engagement, and the judicious use of American resources - whether they are military, diplomatic, financial, and cultural resources - can help to promote peace and stability.

One form of our engagement in this region is our forward deployment of about 100,000 American troops. Some are stationed in Japan and Korea, and some rotate through the region.

The U.S. military presence in this region during peacetime makes it possible for us to anticipate problems, manage potential threats, and encourage peaceful resolution of disputes. It gives us avenues for coordination and cooperation with military counterparts in Asia. Our military presence gives us an effective way to contribute to constructive political, economic, and military development. It provides a secure and reliable context for U.S. trade and investment, as well as for cultural, social, and educational exchanges.

As part of this comprehensive range of engagements with East Asia, our regional security policy has to address the role of the PRC. American engagement with the PRC on a wide range of issues - including security issues - is very much in the interest of Taiwan, the U.S., and others in the Asia-Pacific region.

Just like their Taiwan counterparts, the American military and intelligence communities closely watch military developments in the PRC. We are well aware of PRC efforts to upgrade their military capability, and we understand Taiwan's concerns about being a target of that upgraded capability.

We have noted the PRC's increased deployment of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan in recent years. Such developments certainly must be weighed in the decisions we make about our interactions with the PRC and with Taiwan.

An important part of the U.S. commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region is our role in helping Taiwan to build and maintain its self-defense capability. This obligation is set forth in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. The Act obligates the United States to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.

It also calls for maintaining the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.

The Act directs the U.S. to "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." The Act further instructs the President and the Congress to make determinations about the kinds and quantities of these articles and services based on their judgment of Taiwan's needs, in accordance with procedures established by law. In practical terms, these judgments have to balance Taiwan's requests, U.S. policy and interests, and current conditions in the region.

Over the past 20 years, the United States has viewed our security program to be one of the most important aspects of our relationship with Taiwan. At AIT, I consider the security program to be one of the key reasons why our office is here.

Although the people who wrote the Taiwan Relations Act recognized the potential military threat to Taiwan posed by the PRC, they did not intend for the American commitment to Taiwan to rely on weapons alone. American security policy toward Taiwan, and indeed toward the entire Asia-Pacific region, is not just a question of military strength. There are political, economic, and social aspects that are just as important, or perhaps more important, than military hardware in maintaining the peace and in resolving differences.

The Taiwan Relations Act acknowledges that there are many dimensions of American concern for the security and prosperity of Taiwan and its people. Commercial and cultural ties are just as explicitly a part of our relationship under the Taiwan Relations Act as are military sales.

With the Taiwan Relations Act as a foundation, over the last 21 years a series of fundamental principles of American policy concerning issues in the Taiwan Strait have evolved. These principles include:

* First, the U.S. commitment to our one-China policy as defined by the three communiques.
* Second, our insistence that the Taiwan Strait issue must be resolved peacefully.
* Third, our confidence that the two sides have the creativity to resolve the issue on their own, without American mediation.
* Fourth, our refusal to pressure either side to accept any arrangements it does not believe are in its interests.
* Fifth, an understanding that any arrangements between Beijing and Taipei should be on a mutually acceptable basis, not imposed by one side on the other.
* Sixth, an understanding that because Taiwan is a democracy, any arrangements between the two sides ultimately have to be acceptable to the Taiwan public; and finally,
* A willingness to support any outcome that is voluntarily agreed to by both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

These principles establish and reinforce our belief that Taiwan's security in the future will depend not only on its military defenses, but on the two sides of the Strait building a framework that maximizes the potential for cooperation and through which each side addresses the concerns of the other.

The people of Taiwan, preparing for a new chapter in their society, are waiting for history to unfold in several dimensions - political, economic, military, and social.

Just as the United States did not try to promote any particular outcome of Taiwan's presidential election, neither will we make any pre-judgments of what the new administration in Taiwan may bring.

It is important to note that we are awaiting a new administration in the United States as well. Whoever becomes the next President of the United States will inherit a set of sound Asia policy principles that have served us well for more than two decades, through both Republican and Democratic administrations. America will continue to set and to carry out policies that are sound yet flexible, in keeping with our goal to promote peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. We will continue to uphold our legal commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act. We will be a partner for peace, security, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific now and into the 21st century.