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Text: "The Kitchen God Reports to Heaven" Speech by Richard C. Bush, Chairman and Managing Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, February 4, 1999, as Prepared for Delivery

BG9902E | Date: 1999-02-04

It is a great pleasure for my wife Marty and me to join the members of the Taipei AmCham for your annual Hsin-nien-fan dinner. For a number of years, I have looked at pictures from past dinners in the relevant issue of Topics and regretted that I lived too far away to attend. I'm very happy that my travel plans and the lunar calendar coincided to make it possible for us to be with you tonight.

We are joined tonight by our good friends, Darryl and Kathleen Johnson, and other key players on the AIT team. I hope that you will join me in saluting Darryl and Kathleen for the outstanding job they have done in representing the United States over the last two-plus years. When they arrived in mid-1996, there was room for improvement in our bilateral relationship, and the fact that we are in excellent shape today is due in large measure to their fine work.

I am not only pleased to be with you this evening but also deeply honored to be one of your keynote speakers. Your organization plays a key role in the robust and substantive relationship between the United States and Taiwan. Your talented members are the spark plugs of cooperation between our two economies as they create new niches in an increasingly dynamic global economy. Producers and consumers on both sides of the Pacific owe you a debt of gratitude.

But AmCham's value goes beyond your critical role in the exchange of goods, services, and know-how. You provide important insights on the broader framework of the U.S. relationship with Taiwan and how that framework can be improved. Through your Washington Door-knocks and your very substantive magazine, you help keep Washington policy-makers current on key issues concerning Taiwan and so contribute to policy formation. It is safe to say that this is the most important audience that I have addressed since becoming chairman of AIT.

Also, I realize that in speaking to you tonight, I am joining a large group of distinguished Americans and Chinese who have come before me. Chairman Koo Chen-fu, for example, is a chun-tzu of the highest order, for whom I have profound respect and admiration. I am very grateful for this honor.

The essence of hsin-nien-chieh is taking stock. Debts are discharged, evaluations are made, and ties of affection are renewed. In the Chinese religious tradition, this is the time that the Kitchen God from each household makes a report to Heaven on the family's behavior over the last year. I am no god - Kitchen or otherwise - and the AmCham is not Heaven. But it is in the spirit of the season and in recognition of the important role that you play in U.S. relationship with Taiwan, that I stand before you tonight.

As I thought initially about my remarks for this evening, I was inclined to prepare a rather long and fairly serious policy address, a speech that examined the long sweep of U.S. relations with Taiwan, explored the subtleties of bilateral issues, and clarified once again why the so-called "three nos" did not represent a change in U.S. policy. Then some good friends sat me down and basically urged me to "chill out." This was not the spirit of your hsin-nien-fan event, they said, and I really did not wish to be responsible for putting such a large audience to sleep. So, I have done my best to chill out and it is only with some brief observations that I will bore you.

1998 Plus A Sense of Perspective

Concerning the past year, I would briefly point to several important milestones in our bilateral relationship:

--The signing of the WTO agreement in February;
--A new approach in the approach to security assistance, giving more emphasis to what we call software without in any way ignoring hardware.
--The consistency with which the President Clinton addressed the Taiwan issue during his visit to the PRC, which I believe the Taiwan public came to understand after some initial anxiety.--The visit of Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson in November, the first by a Cabinet Secretary in four years; and
--Chairman Koo's visit to the mainland in October.

So in the recent short term, the relationship is sound and robust. I think it is also important, as we address the issues of the moment, to maintain a sense of perspective. I know that in the end we are all dead, and that, according to some geologists, within a few million years Taiwan will bump up against the coast of Fujian. But taking the last few decades as our time frame, there has been significant change in Taiwan and U.S.-Taiwan relations and that change has been good.

I see this in my own experience. My family lived here in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and one of my sisters went to Taipei American School and lived with an American family. Suddenly, one day, the authorities asked that family to leave immediately because they had had contacts with certain dissidents. When Marty and I lived here in 1975, we observed the sense of foreboding that people here felt when, in the space of one month, Chiang Kai-shek passed away and helicopters lifted people off the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon. In 1983, when I joined the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, one of my first tasks was to work on the case of Lin Yi-hsiung, who was in jail in connection with the Kaohsiung Incident. Of course, Lin Yi-hsiung is now the chairman of the leading opposition party, which did not exist until twenty-some years ago. He is only one symbol of the liberalization and democratization that occurred on Taiwan over the last two decades, one of the most remarkable examples of political evolution of our time.

The same sense of perspective is appropriate when thinking about our bilateral relationship. During the 1950s and 1960s, for example, it was a case of t'ung-chuang yi-meng - same bed, different dreams. On the one hand, the United States and Taiwan were bound by an alliance; on the other, American officials lived in dread that the authorities here might drag us into a war we did not want. During the 1970s, the U.S. rapprochement with the PRC left people on Taiwan deeply fearful that their freedom and survival were at risk.

Today, although the United States and Taiwan don't see eye to eye on everything, I believe there is a new maturity in our relationship. Our interests and values are basically identical. Our communications are smooth and substantive. And support for Taiwan in the United States is broad and deep. The arrangements created by the Taiwan Relations Act have succeeded beyond anyone's expectations, and certainly beyond the hopes that people had twenty years ago. If you add to this mix the not-unreasonable hopes that the PRC might soon become a full and responsible member of the international community and that the long-running conflict across the Strait might be resolved in a manner that is acceptable to all concerned, I would not trade the current period for any time in the last fifty years. There are still challenges to be met, but they should be met with a sense of optimism and without anxiety that Taiwan's interests are going to be sacrificed in the process.

The U.S. Role in Cross-Strait Relations

In light of Chairman Koo's presence here this evening, I would like to say a few words about the United States role in cross-Strait relations. Five principles are at work.

First of all, the United States has insisted and will insist that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved peacefully. It was in part to re-emphasize this principle that President Clinton sent two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan area in March of 1996, and that both Houses of Congress reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the TRA in July of last year. This is a point on which the Executive Branch, the Congress, the media, and the American public agree.

The second principle is that constructive and meaningful cross-Strait dialogue is the best way to resolve Taiwan-PRC differences. In and of itself, dialogue fosters an atmosphere in which tensions are reduced, misperceptions can be clarified, and common ground can be explored. The Administration is pleased that Beijing and Taipei successfully resumed their dialogue through the visit of Chairman Koo last October. The atmosphere between the two sides is improved, serious issues were discussed, and a four-point consensus for future cooperation was reached. For example, Mr. Wang Daohan, the ARATS chairman, will visit Taiwan this year.

The third principle governing the U.S. role in the Taiwan Strait issue is that the issues that divide Beijing and Taipei - substantive and otherwise - should be resolved by the two sides themselves. Whereas the United States has played a central role in trying to end conflicts in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and Cyprus, in this case our interest in peace and stability are best served by not taking a seat at the table. Indeed, it has been a matter of U.S. policy since 1982 that we would not seek to mediate this dispute. We take this approach in the belief that any arrangements achieved by Beijing and Taipei alone are more likely to endure than those facilitated by an American go-between.

Similarly, and this is my fourth principle, the United States will remain even-handed in its approach to cross-Strait dialogue. We will neither support one side over the other, nor pressure one side to make concessions that it does not wish to make. In fact, it has been U.S. policy over a long period of time that we will not pressure Taipei to negotiate with Beijing. That is a policy that the Administration takes very seriously. But it applies equally to Beijing.

My fifth principle is a corollary of the fourth. Part of the Administration's approach of evenhandedness on cross-Strait dialogue is a belief that any arrangements concluded between Beijing and Taipei should be on a mutually acceptable basis. In any successful negotiation, in fact, each party should believe that its fundamental interests have been protected and that it is better off because of the bargaining that has taken place. Also, as a corollary of this principle of mutual acceptability. the Administration understands that because Taiwan is a democracy, any results of cross-Strait dialogue will have to have broad public support.

Consistent with these principles, the United States will follow the development of cross-Strait relations in the months ahead, in the hope that they will develop in a constructive and substantive manner and lead to a reduction of tensions and greater stability in the region. At the same time, we understand that this is only the beginning of a long process in which fundamental differences will be addressed and that the results must meet with the Taiwan public's approval. And we have confidence that the two sides, with the proper political will, have the wisdom and creativity to craft arrangements that are consistent with their mutual interests and that will command public support.


Thus concludes my New Year's report to you. I believe that 1998 was a good year for U.S.-Taiwan relations, and that our ties are as strong today as any time in the last few decades. I think a sense of optimism is justified for 1999 and beyond. I hope that 1999 will be a good year for each of you, your families, your firms, and for this fine organization.