Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Official Text

Press Conference Stephen M. Young, Director, American Institute in Taiwan, Taipei, November 9, 2007

OT0717E | Date: 2007-11-09


DIRECTOR YOUNG:  First of all, I would like to thank you all for coming and remind you that when I got here early last year, I made a promise to you that I would try to meet with you roughly every six months.  Lest you be looking too hard for a specific motivation for this press conference, it's really one of those periodic opportunities for us to talk.  I very much value the coverage that you give to American interests in Taiwan all the time, and I think this is an opportunity to share with you some of my views.

I am not speaking in a vacuum here, and in that regard I want to draw attention to recent statements and speeches by some of my colleagues in Washington, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte's interview with Phoenix Television in late August and his speech before the National Council on U.S.-China Relations in New York, October 24; as well as an important speech on September 11 by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tom Christensen; and an interview of Dennis Wilder from the National Security Council held in late August.

It's a political season here, and it's quickly becoming one in the United States as well.  There is no question that we have hit a rough patch recently over this government's UN referendum.  This is a serious issue, but before I take your questions on that and other current topics, I would like to lay out a broader framework for maintaining and strengthening our bilateral relations.  We generally have a very strong relationship based upon historic ties and traditional friendship, as well as deep and sincere admiration for all that Taiwan's people have accomplished despite very real challenges over the past several decades.

In particular, we join the world in applauding your peaceful democratic transition over the past twenty years -- a successful start to an ongoing process.  Having been here for the seminal 2000 presidential elections, I am personally very excited by the opportunity to witness the coming legislative and presidential elections.  Let me be clear:  my government has no intention of infringing on the Taiwan people's right to exercise their democratic privileges.  We have no favorite in these races, either for legislative seats or the Presidential contest.  My government looks forward to working constructively in pursuit of U.S. national interests, which include preservation of our very close bilateral ties, with whomever the Taiwan people select next March 22 to be their next President.  We are in touch with both candidates to learn more about their respective visions for Taiwan's future.  I am certain that, just as was the case in 2000, we will engage closely with the President-elect after the Taiwan people have spoken next March.

We have no objection to the use of referenda in Taiwan, but as in all democracies, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.  That is why we have felt it our obligation, as a close partner with Taiwan, respectfully to express our opposition to the referendum on applying to the UN under the name of Taiwan.  As stated, we believe this referendum poses a threat to cross-Strait stability and appears inconsistent, at the very least, with the spirit of President Chen's public commitments.  As I have summarized our position, the referendum is neither necessary nor helpful [不必而不利].  We call upon Taiwan's politicians and voters to adopt a careful and moderate approach to cross-Strait relations, and to avoid risky acts that cannot really help Taiwan's actual international status.

That is not to say that the United States is indifferent to Taiwan's quest for international space.  While we do not support Taiwan's membership in international organizations for which statehood is a requirement, we continue actively to oppose the Mainland's effort to squeeze Taiwan's international space, and we support Taiwan's greater participation in international organizations.  This includes organizations in which Taiwan is a full member, such as APEC, WTO, the Asian Development Bank, and OIE, the animal husbandry safety organization, as well as organizations where merely active or greater participation is possible, such as the WHO, OECD, and ICAO.

On the security front, we have since 1979, under the Taiwan Relations Act, developed effective mechanisms to support Taiwan's efforts to defend itself against any external threat.  We have done this through the approval of sales of appropriate defensive weapons systems as well as other less visible but equally important programs aimed at ensuring Taiwan's ability to defend itself.  This has included, specifically, critical infrastructure protection, greater jointness or cooperation between the military services, the maintenance of adequate stockpiles of armaments and supplies, and the development of a noncommissioned officer corps.

At the same time, we continue to see the Mainland's rapid buildup across the Strait as a force for instability and a threat to the status quo, and we raise this in our discussions regularly with Beijing.  Secretary of Defense Gates did this just a few days ago during his visit to Beijing, and Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte highlighted this in his October 24 speech.  Just in case you think we never make mistakes, the characterization by the Armed Forces Press Service of our position toward Taiwan was inaccurate, and we quickly corrected that — it is "peaceful resolution," not "peaceful reunification."

We view Taiwan's ability to defend itself as a source of stability in cross-Strait relations.  We believe it gives the island the confidence to talk plainly about its differences with your big neighbor to the west.  In this light, we congratulate the Chen administration for putting forth a robust defense budget that seriously addresses Taiwan's defense needs.  The Legislative Yuan passed the 2007 defense budget last June, and they have recently passed through the Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan the 2008 budget.  We congratulate both major parties in the legislature for their bipartisan cooperation in that effort.  We hope this cooperation can become contagious and lead to the passage of the 2008 defense budget by the end of this year.

Let me quickly conclude by highlighting the robust economic ties between our two sides.  Total two-way trade between Taiwan and the United States was $60 billion last year and is expected to rise by 4% in 2007.  The TIFA process has proven a successful tool for managing this important relationship and has addressed important issues, such as intellectual property rights and pharmaceuticals.  The TIFA process is exploring bilateral agreements on double taxation avoidance and investment.  You've heard me speak about my admiration for Taiwan's economic vitality before.  I think it's important to note that both candidates for the presidency have been talking quite a bit about economic plans for the future, and we encourage and applaud that.  We are also pleased to see that both Ma Ying-jeou and Frank Hsieh advocate greater liberalization of cross-Strait trade and investment, something that we have encouraged for some time.  This is exactly what democracy is supposed to do:  give the people a reasoned debate about the topics and allow them to make their decisions based on the issues.

I'd like to say a word about pork.  I wrote an op-ed piece on this subject in August, which some of your media outlets covered in August -- and I appreciate that.  We simply seek a science-based approach that allows continued export of safe U.S. pork to Taiwan, as approved both by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the international regulatory organization, the Codex Alimentarius Commission.  We will continue to work productively with our Taiwan partners on developing a practical solution to this issue that benefits both sides.

I've laid out a full agenda, and I expect it to keep us both very busy in the coming months.  I am confident that, with adequate channels of communication and mutual good will, we can keep our bilateral relations heading in the right direction as both of us look forward to political transitions in our societies over the next 15 months.

Thank you, and now comes the fun part:  I'm ready to take your questions.

QUESTION:  (Reuters) Thank you for taking our question.  You've talked a lot about the United States' commitment to Taiwan having a robust defensive capability, and there has been some progress on the defense budget for this year and next.  Can you give us an update on the status of the 66 F-16s that Taiwan is requesting?  They haven't actually made a formal request, because the United States, as we understand it, didn't want them to.  Why, if they have passed part of that budget, and you want to provide a robust defensive package, is there still stalling on that particular issue?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Thank you for the question.  First of all, we are quite aware of the interest on the part of Taiwan in the F-16s, and we have taken note of submissions both in the 2007 and in the 2008 budget to that effect.  As I tried to describe in my opening remarks, we do have a process. It is an orderly one that has worked since 1979, when we established the informal relationship with Taiwan.  We will work by this process as the Taiwan side finalizes its interest and the United States considers it.  I am confident it will be based upon the precepts of the Taiwan Relations Act and will not be politicized. 

QUESTION:  Max Hirsch (Kyodo News).  What kind of communication has AIT been conducting with Taiwan regarding the development of the Hsiung Feng II-E -- the Brave Wind II-E -- and what is the U.S.'s position on the development of a particularly offensive indigenous missile capable of hitting targets deep in China?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Thank you, Max.  The approach that the United States has always taken, which was set out in the Taiwan Relations Act, is to consider requests for appropriate defensive weapons.  Without getting into the specifics of this weapon or that weapon -- and clearly the word "defensive" is a relative one -- we have believed consistently that Taiwan's best "bang for the buck," the best approach to its asymmetrical response to the PRC military buildup, is to focus on in-close defense of the island.  We have a very open dialogue with Taiwan on all these questions, and it is obviously a dynamic, because there is no question that China's buildup over the last fifteen or twenty years is a cause of concern not only for Taiwan but for many countries in the East Asian region.  I'd like simply to emphasize that we have a very productive dialogue -- involving our military, Taiwan's military, myself, Washington, and Taiwan's political leadership -- on this whole question of how best to develop a modern and effective defensive capability.

QUESTION:  Brendan Huang (Commercial Times).  I have one question about an economic issue.  As you mentioned, the FTA and tax agreement are very important in Taiwan - U.S. relations.  I want to know if there is any progress on the negotiation for an FTA and a tax agreement.

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  I had actually mentioned the tax agreement and the investment agreement.  I had not mentioned an FTA, but I will answer your question about that.  First of all, we have exchanged ideas on a tax agreement and are continuing to do so in a very productive way, both through visitors back and forth as well as through digital video conferences between our people in Washington and their counterparts here in Taiwan.

As to an FTA -- Free Trade Agreement -- there really is a major impediment to our considering that with any partner at this time: that is the lapsing of fast-track authority last June 30 by our American Congress.  Barring extension or resumption of fast-track authority, I think the Bush Administration does not intend to initiate any new negotiations with partners on FTAs before the end of its term in office in January 2009.  In fact, Free Trade Agreements negotiated by the United States with such countries as South Korea and Panama have still not been taken up by our Congress for ratification, so I think even that process has become slower as a result of the lapsing of fast-track authority as well as the new attitude toward such trade agreements by the Congress of the United States. 

As we made quite clear to our Taiwan friends, the TIFA process is a multi-faceted one which allows us to discuss all aspects of our bilateral trade relationship and also tries to create a stronger framework for the future.  Progress in TIFA could pave the way for better prospects for an FTA at some point in the future, if the process of negotiating FTAs becomes possible again.  We encourage our Taiwan friends to focus on the TIFA right now. 

QUESTION:  I'm Peter Enav and I'm with the Associate Press.  Within the context of this dynamic dialogue on defense issues that you've just described, I wonder if you see President Chen's promise of about two weeks ago, I believe, not to fire Hsiung Feng II-E missiles without consulting or without obtaining the permission of the United States - is this a positive contribution to the dialogue?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  We very much appreciate the close bilateral dialogue on all security related issues with President Chen, with the National Security Advisor, with the Minister of Defense, and others.  I think I'll just stop there and not get into the issue of particular promises or offers.  The key point is close consultation on these issues.

QUESTION: I'm Shirley Chang from CTI TV.  Because you mentioned several times that the United States does not support the Taiwan UN referendum, I was wondering if you talked about this with President Chen in person and how he reacted.  Because what he's doing right now the U.S. does not like. Have you talked about this?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Thank you for your question.  I think it's very important that we be quite clear with our Taiwan friends about views in a lot of areas -- defense issues, as well as political issues -- and, yes, I have a regular dialogue with President Chen as well as other important players on the Taiwan political side.  I think it's fair to say that neither President Chen nor anyone else here in Taiwan should be confused by both the fact of our opposition to this referendum and the reasons.

QUESTION:  Walter Liu, Economic Daily News.  I think you just mentioned, if I'm not mistaken, the U.S. supports Taiwan to go forward as an international presence, as a full member of the organizations in which Taiwan is already a member, in APEC, WTO and OIE.  Can you elaborate on the other organizations which you mentioned - WHO, OECD, and ICAO?  Thank you. 

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  It would take a long time and perhaps not be the best use of our time for me to go into too much detail, but our policy for has for a long time been to support meaningful participation by Taiwan in organizations where it cannot be a full member.  Let's take WHO, the World Health Organization.  While recognizing that Taiwan does not meet the qualifications to be a full member, we believe it is important for Taiwan to play an active role, both contributing its own expertise in medical,  epidemiological, and other areas to the Organization, and benefiting from the information that the WHO can give to Taiwan.  We would support Taiwan becoming a formal observer of WHO, if that could be accomplished with the other members of the Organization, although it hasn't been at this point.

In the absence of observer status we have tried to work with the administration of the WHO to ensure that Taiwan participates in various specialized conferences and meetings to deal with global health issues.  I think it was obvious during the SARS epidemic four years ago, or as we look at other transnational medical threats, that Taiwan should be an active player in international health discussions of threats that know no national boundaries.  The basic fact is that Taiwan has a lot to contribute to many, many international groups and organizations and we'd like to assist them in realizing that potential.

QUESTION:  Director Young, this is Jane Rickards with the Washington Post.  You mentioned during this press conference that several high ranking U.S. officials have warned against Taiwan going through with this referendum, entering the UN under the name Taiwan.  What are you trying to achieve with all these warnings?  It appears that President Chen Shui-bian is not listening and is going to go through with the plans to hold it.  Would you take any action against Taiwan if these warnings were not heeded and, if not, what are you trying to achieve with these warnings?  Are you trying to reach out to Taiwan's voters?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  I would characterize this not as a warning so much as clearly expressing our opposition.  I think I was fairly clear in my opening remarks that this is done with great respect for Taiwan's democratic right to take actions that it chooses to take.  I do think that there is a price to be paid in mutual trust when we talk past one another about an important issue like this and that is for Taiwan's political system to consider.  I would stop short of saying that there was some sort of specific consequence, some sort of action or punishment or something that is being envisioned here.  It is simply that we would like the Taiwan voters, as you discussed, to understand the reasons why the United States thinks this is not the most felicitous of steps to take when the goal should be maintaining cross-Strait stability.  As I tried to stress in my opening remarks, this is done in the spirit of two friendly democracies that share a lot in common, have respect for one another, and speak plainly about issues of mutual importance.

Let me elaborate.  Some people like to talk to me about polls.  While I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago trying to make a living while I was studying history, I worked for a brief time in a national polling organization.  I discovered that the way you ask a question has a lot to do with the answer you get back.  In that regard, you could talk about the referendum.  It seems to me that the referendum that says "Do you want to enter the UN?" is what we would call an apple pie referendum in the United States.  Nobody's going to oppose it.  If the question were asked "Do you support Taiwan running a referendum to enter the United Nations under the name of Taiwan, understanding that it might raise tensions in the Taiwan Strait and strain relations with your closest security partner?" then that's a different sort of question.  That's what we're trying to get across.

QUESTION:  Hi, this is Kate from Public TV Service.  As you know, the ranking of Taiwan's competitiveness was decreased by the survey of the World Economic Forum.  Even Korea performed much better than Taiwan.  I'm wondering what your opinion is about this and in what way can the Taiwan government improve the situation?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Thank you for your question, Kate.  It's a good question and one that I think the two candidates for president are discussing, as well as their vice-presidential running mates.

The question of Taiwan's economic success is a lot like the question we English speakers ask about whether the glass is half full or half empty.  I still am struck by a lot of the positive indicators of Taiwan's economic competitiveness, but there's no question that there's more that can be done.  I notice that the people of Taiwan have high expectations as well, because they don't compare themselves to (and I hope I don't offend anybody here) Madagascar or Paraguay or Kyrgyzstan.  They compare themselves to their strongest neighbors, like South Korea.

As somebody who's been observing Taiwan's economy since I was a young boy in the 1960's, I'm impressed that Taiwan has faced the challenge of coming up with new strategies to re-invigorate its competitiveness, given global and regional competition.  Again and again it has developed successful new strategies.  The debate between the candidates for the presidency underscores that this is an important issue for Taiwan in 2007.  What it means is that Taiwan, both as an economy and in its political structures, is never resting on its laurels but is rather always looking for new ways to enhance its competitiveness.  I think that's a healthy thing.

Taiwan is going to continue to be a very competitive partner with neighbors like South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore precisely because of this focus on always looking for ways to improve.  I look forward both to the debates during the campaign and to seeing what the new president will try and do to stimulate the economy.

QUESTION:  Hi, my name is Jane Lee from ICRT.  Given the very divisive atmosphere here in Taiwan politics, do you expect a very dramatic presidential election here next year?  If so, does the United States have any contingency plans for dramatic events like the ones we had in 2004?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  We're going to watch it carefully and we're going to enjoy understanding the debates between the two sides.  If you want to talk about dramatic events involving attempts to structure democracy, I can think of a lot of places that have had a lot more dramatic, negative events than this one.  I don't share what I perceive to be your anxiety that something bad is going to happen.  I'm thinking of places like Pakistan and Thailand.  Consider Georgia, today, if you're paying attention to that.  Those are dramatic and troublesome events in the development -- or the attempt to develop --democratic societies. 

The kind of debates and competition I've seen here are of a very different order.  Though I wasn't here in 2004, I think that was the case then too.  As I've suggested in the past, building a democracy is not easy.  As a student of democracy around the world, I share the view of many other close observers that Taiwan has been extraordinarily successful at managing the peaceful democratic transition that is not something you can take for granted.  I am struck by the fact that in 2004, it had a very close presidential outcome.  Just last December in Kaohsiung there was an even closer outcome and yet the two sides accepted the results.  That's the secret of democratic stability.  I'm very impressed with that.

Since I'm talking to ICRT, you can tell Rick Monday I'd like to come back and do another show with him, but he's got to let me play more music.  Less talk, more rock!  Three songs in an hour is not enough!

QUESTION:  Kathrin Hille from the Financial Times.  In your introductory remarks, you've called China's rapid expansion of its military capabilities a threat to the status quo.  I remember in many conversations with government representatives here that the Taiwan government has taken the view that it feels treated unfairly by the U.S. Government, being singled out for making moves that seem aimed at altering the status quo unilaterally.  At what point does the military development on the other side of the Strait become a change to the status quo and not only a threat?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  I think it's pretty basic.  We don't believe that the PLA's military build-up is conducive to regional or cross-Strait stability.  Behind that we have always objected to the claim by the PRC that it enjoys the right to use force to solve the Taiwan question.  That's quite fundamental.  I think Secretary Gates's conversations with Hu Jintao and Minister of Defense Cao Gangchuan touched on that in a very specific way.  So did the remarks of Mr. Negroponte on the 24th of October.  I think it's clear that we will continue to talk about this build-up, particularly the lack of transparency to it, as a concern of the United States.

In a broader sense, the question of what the status quo is, is a rather amorphous one; a rather confusing one.  I think the important aspect of U.S. policy is that we try to, in an even-handed way, make clear to both sides of the Taiwan Strait our desire that they not take steps unilaterally that will disturb what we view as the status quo, which is really the lack of tension or the danger of escalation in military tension between the two sides.

I know there is a lot of discussion about trying to define the status quo better or questioning whether U.S. policy toward Taiwan, which includes the One-China Policy, is adequate to the evolving state of cross-Strait relations.  In my mind, and I consider myself to be a rather long-term student of this, the key thing is not so much whether you define the status quo in very precise terms, but that you look at whether the amorphous set of principles, actions, statements, and exchanges that involve us, the Chinese, and the Taiwan side, lead to what is really the goal, and that is creating the conditions whereby Taiwan can pursue democratic development, continue to expand and build its economy and build its competitiveness, chart its own course, and enjoy its freedom.  By that standard, the American policy over the last thirty or so years has been pretty successful, and the continuing efforts by the United States to balance our very important relations with the PRC as well as our strong traditional ties to Taiwan have contributed to the continuance of a situation where the people of this island can define their own future without threat of military attack or coercion.

I think in some respects it gets harder all the time, partly because China is becoming stronger and more prosperous; partly because Taiwan's democracy brings some of these questions to the fore in ways that they weren't able to be discussed twenty or thirty years ago.  On the key criterion of whether or not there has been conflict in the Taiwan Strait, I think that those of us trying to maintain this stability still get a passing grade.  The most important thing to focus on now -- for the duration of the Chen administration, then very importantly with the next President of Taiwan, and with the next President of the United States -- is that we keep on that path.  That's what drives me and my work every day, and I think it drives my colleagues back in Washington as well.

I'd like to thank you all for coming, and I apologize for going late, but it's Kathrin's fault for asking such an intriguing question at the end.  I would like to say that nobody asked me about the victory of the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, but I think it's a blow for freedom and the good guys, and I'd also like to say "I'll see you" on November 25 when I attempt yet again the rather preposterous and excruciating task of climbing up Taipei 101.

(End Transcript)



- Download - MP3 Format, 70 MB
- Listen Online:
Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Related Links:


Director's Speeches