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Press Conference Stephen M. Young Director, American Institute in Taiwan American Cultural Center Taipei, November 12, 2008

OT0816E | Date: 2008-11-12


DIRECTOR YOUNG: Thank you all for coming.  I scheduled this press conference a couple of weeks ago based upon my promise to you that every six months I would make myself available to talk with the Taiwan media.  I know I'm competing with some big stories this morning.

First of all I'd like to say it's good to see Wang Chien-ming back in Taiwan and looking healthy.  I wish him all the best of luck in 2009, except when he faces my Boston Red Sox.

Second, clearly the detention yesterday of former President Chen Shui-bian is a big story.  But I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you here, because I see this as a matter for Taiwan's legal system to resolve.  The only thing I would say is that not only Taiwan but also your friends around the world will be watching this process very closely, and we believe it needs to be transparent, fair and impartial.  Assuming that it is conducted in that manner, it can strengthen the confidence, both here and around the world, in your democracy.

U.S.-Taiwan Relations

Today, I really want to spend my time talking about U.S.-Taiwan relations.  I will have some opening remarks, and I will leave plenty of time for your questions.

I would like to start by saying that I was quite moved by last Saturday's memorial service for Formosa Plastics founder Wang Yung-ching.  His life is a symbol of Taiwan's economic success over the past half-century.  I am very proud of our American connection to this son of Taiwan and business king.  I think it's a source of pride for all of us that a U.S. assistance grant in 1954 allowed Mr. Wang to begin his company, which has grown into the wonder of Taiwan, Asia and the entire world.  I think it's quite remarkable that, in death, Mr. Wang was able to bring the differing players in Taiwan's political life together to honor his lifetime of business success, contributions to this island's social welfare, and adherence to good old-fashioned work ethics.  That was quite an accomplishment.

As to the state of U.S.-Taiwan relations today, many of you are already familiar with my stress on the three pillars of this relationship, that is: democracy, security and economic cooperation.  I early on made clear that we are prepared to work with whomever emerged from last March's hard-fought presidential election.  It was also clear that there was going to have to be focus on restoring trust after some stress to the relationship over the past couple of years.  President-elect Ma Ying-jeou welcomed this challenge, and I have to say we are developing a good working relationship with him and his government.  The impressive electoral turnout and successful transition to the new administration this spring reinforced my faith in Taiwan's vibrant young democracy. 

On the security front, we have continued our close operation across the board.  Defense Minister Chen Chao-min had a successful trip to America earlier this fall, an example of that kind of cooperation.  President Ma's support for the arms requested and budgeted by the Chen Administration resulted in President Bush's notification of US$6.4 billion in weapons [sales] to the U.S. Congress last month. This was a strong reaffirmation of America's commitment to Taiwan's defense needs under the Taiwan Relations Act.

On the economic side, we continue to work closely with our Taiwan friends on a broad agenda.  This includes active discussion of the government procurement agreement under the WTO; e-Commerce between our two economies; exploring ways to strengthen the investment climate between the two of us; working with our Taiwan partners on improving respect for intellectual property rights; fully opening Taiwan's market to U.S. beef and other agricultural products, such as pork and rice; and working with our friends in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Department of Health on setting MRLs - which are maximum residue limits - for a variety of U.S. products.

Last year's two-way trade between us hit a record volume of US$64.7 billion.  This year, through the month of October, we are on track to set a new record, if the trends continue through the last two months of the year.  Despite this year's global turndown, we continue to enjoy the broad engagement with our Taiwan partners that makes this island our ninth-largest trade partner.  While Taiwan, like the rest of Asia, has been hit hard by the global financial crisis these past several months, still its continuing commitment to openness and globalization makes me confident the economy here will survive and prosper.  I think what's emerging in recent weeks is a recognition that this is a global problem, and it needs to be resolved by cooperation of all the major economies around the world.  Taiwan is a partner in such organizations as APEC, WTO, ADB and other organizations, and it will be important that Taiwan be consulted with, and be given a chance to contribute to, the global response to the economic situation that is continuing to unfold.

U.S. Election

Last week was a very eventful one in American politics.  One cannot but be inspired by the heavy turnout and the historic result of our presidential election, as a very able and talented African-American was elected our 44th president.  We're trying to close the gap between us and you, and by having 67% of eligible U.S. voters participate, we're getting closer to the numbers in the high 70s and low 80s that Taiwan has been able to register.  That participation rate of 67% was, I believe, a modern record going back over 100 years for turnout in a presidential election in America.  I know not just Americans, but the whole world is hoping for a tremendous performance from our next president, given the number of problems that we face.

I want to assure all of you and all of my friends in Taiwan that U.S.-Taiwan relations will remain strong and enduring under President Obama.  First, this is nothing new.  Since 1979, we will now have had by next January five transitions to new administrations in Washington.  History has shown that the fundamentals of our robust if informal relationship have flourished through all of these shifts in American politics.

This success is based on a solid foundation including three points.  First, there is the traditional relationship of friendship between the two of us.  Second, there is the continuing strength of the Taiwan Relations Act.  And finally, there are the shared values between our two societies.  That includes vibrant democracy, respect for human rights, an open society, a free press. that's you - and the continued thousands and thousands of exchanges between the people of our two societies.

During his campaign, Senator Obama has reiterated his commitment to the relationship in statements like the one following last month's arms notification.  He is committed to continuing the defense cooperation under the Taiwan Relations Act, and he has also sent warm letters of congratulation to President Ma at the time of the election in March and again at the time of his inauguration in May. I personally know several of President-elect Obama's foreign policy advisers.  They are well-versed in this area of the world and can offer the next president solid advice.  People like Jim Steinberg, Richard Bush and Jeff Bader.  Of course, any new president has the option of reviewing the details of international relations, but again, the fundamentals of our relationship are quite solid.  So I don't think you should be too nervous about this transition.

Cross-Strait Relations, Chen Yunlin's Visit

I'd like to talk a little bit about the strategic triangle between Taipei, Beijing and Washington.  I remain confident that our continuing effort to build a constructive, positive relationship with an emerging People's Republic of China will not come at Taiwan's expense.  The roots of this complex triangle have been grounded for a long time now in our one-China policy, the three joint communique and, of course, the Taiwan Relations Act.  At its core, we support efforts by Taiwan and China to reduce tension in the Taiwan Strait and expand economic and trade cooperation, which brings me to last week's historic visit to Taiwan by China's ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin.  The United States welcomed Mr. Chen's visit and the cross-Strait dialogue it advanced.  We believe the four agreements signed during this past week helped further regional peace, stability and prosperity.

I have seen some speculation in the Taiwan media that suggests America is somehow secretly worried by what is going on between China and Taiwan these days.  This is simply not true.  We have been encouraging China to talk with Taiwan's democratically elected leaders for a long time, and we are pleased by recent progress in this direction.  Basically, my country welcomes any cooperation and any agreement that improves relations across the Taiwan Strait, so long as it is achieved on the basis of equality and mutual benefit and takes into account the views of the 23 million people of democratic Taiwan.

Finally, I have to say that the United States regrets the violence that occurred here last week during the Chen Yunlin visit.  One of the hallmarks of democracy is the fostering of open exchanges in the marketplace of ideas.  In that sense, we encourage the pursuit of dialogue between the government here and the opposition on important issues like the strengthening of democracy, respect for differing opinions and the future direction of cross-Strait Relations.

Thank you for your patience.  I'm ready to take your questions.

U.S. Beef

JENNY HSU, TAIPEI TIMES: Good morning, Director Young. My question is about the beef and pork imports, plus rice, that you mentioned today. That was also an issue that you talked about at the last press conference. There hasn't been much public consensus about U.S. beef, and there are still some people who are worried about the potential of BSE in U.S. beef, and ractopamine in U.S. pork. Can you tell us a little about how you want the Taiwanese government to cooperate with the U.S. in opening the market for these products? Thank you.

DIRECTOR YOUNG: Yes, thank you for the question. Actually, we've had a very good dialogue both with the Chen administration up to May and with the Ma Administration since then on this question. I have a longer statement, which we're going to put out for you to pick up at the end of this press conference, on our position on beef, but I will summarize it orally now. (We'll also put it on our web site today.) In essence, we have been calling for a science-based decision by Taiwan on fully opening up its market to U.S. beef. There has been a comprehensive review of the safety issue by the Department of Health here in which we have cooperated actively. Taiwan has twice in the last year sent specialists to the United States to visit our packing houses and to talk with our experts. As I understand it, Taiwan's Department of Health has recently completed a risk assessment evaluation that I believe finds that U.S. beef products are fully safe and consistent with the standards of the organization OIE, of which Taiwan is a member and which has set global standards for the management of BSE, or Mad Cow Disease. We hope that Taiwan on this basis can soon open its market to all varieties of American beef, just as South Korea has done earlier this year. On a broader point, I think the recent concerns about melamine and other products coming out of China underscore the importance of a strong, science-based process of evaluating food products around the world. The United States, through its Food and Drug Administration, adheres to the highest possible standards for all food products that we consume ourselves in America or that we export to our friends around the world, including Taiwan. We look forward to continuing to expand our exports of American beef, pork, fruit, rice, wheat, and other products that have already found favor or will find greater favor in Taiwan, once your Ministry of Health and your administration in general have fully opened their markets.

Restoring Mutual Trust

RACHEL CHAN, CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY: Good morning, sir. You just mentioned that there's certainly a need to restore mutual trust between Taiwan and the U.S. How much do you think the work has been done, and do you think it is enough now for the two sides to resume higher-level official visits?

DIRECTOR YOUNG: It's always hard to measure trust, in personal relationships or in bilateral diplomatic relations, but I think that the Ma Administration has made a great effort, and we appreciate both the things that they've said and the things that they've done. A key area there has been the willingness to engage China in a discussion on mutually beneficial economic cooperation. I think last week's visit by Chairman Chen Yunlin has shown that the majority of people here in Taiwan and around the world want China and Taiwan to try to work out their differences through mutual dialogue. But as we've often said before, we don't want Taiwan to be pressured or bullied into any one-sided agreements. In that respect, the strengthening of our security cooperation is also very important to our relationship, because I think it gives the Ma Administration the confidence to deal from a position of strength in talking with your large neighbor across the Strait. As far as exchanges are concerned, there are an awful lot of visitors going back and forth between Taiwan and the United States all the time. For example, the governor of Hawaii is visiting here in a few days to promote tourism between Taiwan and Hawaii. And we had the governor from Idaho here a few weeks ago, as well as a lot of specialists from the government at various levels coming back and forth. I expect that to continue, and as to the question of how high a level might come, I think that the next administration will look at the past record of exchanges, which has included occasional cabinet-level officials in the economic and trade area, and make a judgment based upon its sense of what our relationship requires to continue to move forward.

Obama Advisors to Taiwan

RALPH JENNINGS, REUTERS: I understand that president-elect Obama may send a team to Taiwan at the end of the month, and I want to know what kinds of people they are, when they'll be here, what kind of message they're bringing, and what kind of information they might want from Taiwan. Thanks.

DIRECTOR YOUNG: Well, my understanding is that Richard Bush, the former Chairman of AIT back in the 1990's, and the head of Brookings Institution where Richard Bush works, Strobe Talbott, the former Deputy Secretary of State under President Clinton, were planning to come out to Taiwan to attend a conference, I think actually in early December. I understand that they have been among a very large number of people who have been advising Senator Obama during the campaign, but I can't say whether they're coming out with a message reflecting [the thinking of] the president-elect, or whether they're coming in their Brookings capacity. But this kind of flow of people of note like them is a staple of our relationship. For example, I remember earlier this year former Secretary of Defense William Perry led a large and distinguished group out to engage in Track Two negotiations, also going over to China afterwards. Those connections I think are part of the framework of our unofficial relationship that help us understand each other better and explore opportunities to improve relations. So I welcome the visit of my old friends, Mr. Talbott and Mr. Bush.

IPR Protection

CHIU YU-TZU, BUREAU OF NATIONAL AFFAIRS: I have a question about IPR issues. Actually, IPR issues is also one of two questions that Taiwan and Beijing will talk about probably early next year in Beijing, and I would like to know if you have more details about the situation from the U.S. side on IPR issues.

DIRECTOR YOUNG: Thank you for the question. Cooperation on intellectual property rights has been one of the bright aspects of our economic dialogue over the last several years. We recognize the significant progress that Taiwan has made in this area, and we know that they are anxious to be removed from the 301 watch list. I know that Washington is evaluating that request as it reviews the progress that we all acknowledge Taiwan has made. I actually think engaging China on IPR issues will be very important, because Taiwan can share its experience over the last ten or fifteen years as China also tries to improve its policing of IPR violations, because there's a lot to be learned from the success of Taiwan's approach to this issue. Same with food safety, democracy, and freedom of the press.

Managing the International Financial Crisis

SEAN LIU, APPLE DAILY: Just wondering, Director Young, you mentioned that we should give Taiwan the chance to make a contribution to solve the international financial crisis. So, just wondering, did the U.S. government have any concrete plan to help Taiwan to join the international effort to solve this problem? Thank you.

DIRECTOR YOUNG: Yes, that's a good question. I think that Taiwan does have a lot to contribute, and in AIT's dialogue with the people across the spectrum in the economic and governmental areas of the Ma Administration, we've been discussing this. I think actually the APEC summit that will take place in a couple of weeks, actually in a week and a half, in Lima, Peru, will be another opportunity for Taiwan to sit down with leaders from around Asia-Pacific when Lien Chan goes as the Taiwan representative. As I understand it, the discussion will very much focus on plans to address the global economic and financial crisis. I also think that the standing channels between us here in Taiwan through AIT and through Taiwan's TECRO office in Washington are ways in which we can keep this discussion going on a regular basis. This is also why we support Taiwan's being able to contribute to international organizations and have its voice heard, even where membership is not permitted, and I think that president-elect Obama has made clear that he will continue to support that effort, including trying to get Taiwan observer status in WHO.

Possible FTA for Taiwan?

TIM CULPAN, BLOOMBERG: Given the various developments and improvements in the trade relationship between Taiwan and the U.S., could you give us your feeling on the outlook for a possible free trade agreement? [Whether] there has been enough improvement for you to compare the prospects for an FTA today versus six months ago when we last talked, and of course given that we now know who the new [U.S.] president will be -- and Taiwan, of course, has a new administration.

DIRECTOR YOUNG: We're very well aware of Taiwan's interest in a free trade agreement, and I'm sure the new administration will focus on that interest on the part of Taiwan when it looks at this area of the world. But I'm sure you're following the debates back in the United States, and in fact the whole question of how we are going to manage FTAs, including the ones that have already been negotiated with countries like Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, has become a contentions topic in Congress. This is something President-elect Obama is grappling with, and also something that the incoming Congress will need to work on. And I also see that there is continuing discussion about how to salvage the Doha Round, which would of course solve this by allowing the entire world to come up with a framework for dealing with trade. I believe that in the APEC Summit in Lima, there will be discussion of the Asian-Pacific FTA concept, which has already been around for a couple of years. But I think that until the fundamental conceptual question of how the new Congress and the new President are going to deal with FTA has been resolved, the idea initiating new dialogue with potential partners around the world, including Taiwan, is a little bit premature. I also want to stress that, through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, TIFA, we already have a positive and important, even vital, tool for working together with Taiwan as trade partners to resolve problems and questions, including ones that would go to the question of a trade agreement.

Chen Shui-bian Case and Judicial Reform

ROBIN KWONG, FINANCIAL TIMES: Aside from President Chen's case, there have been a number of cases in Taiwan recently where the prosecutor has used his power to detain people without formally charging them for long periods, and this has raised concern among not just people in Taiwan but also academics in other countries and the States, and I'm just wondering, from your perspective, do you seen any concern over this use of prosecutorial power? Do you see any need for judicial reform here?

DIRECTOR YOUNG: That's a good question, and you'll probably be dissatisfied with my answer. I think that in any young democracy, it is important to build confidence in the judicial system and the criminal justice system. As I said before, given the politics of all of this, it is very important that the process, as it goes forward, be transparent, fair and impartial. As I also said, I think that, on a variety of subjects these days, greater dialogue between the government and the opposition is warranted and hopefully will emerge in the near future. I know that Taiwan's legal system, just as America's, views everyone as innocent until proven guilty.

Progress on TIFA Dates? Visa Waiver?

JENNY HSU, TAIPEI TIMES: Thank you, sir. My last question is, in July on the Fourth of July reception, you mentioned that a TIFA talk would be held in Taipei later this year. It's mid-November: Can you tell us about the progress of TIFA talks? Also, I wonder if you can update us on the possibility of Taiwan becoming a roadmap country in the visa waiver program?

DIRECTOR YOUNG: As I said, TIFA is a vital tool for us to work together as trading partners to solve problems. The United States and Taiwan have used the TIFA in past years in a meaningful way to knit closer ties and to build the relationship. The last TIFA round was held in Washington in July 2007, and TIFA meets periodically. The next TIFA meeting has not yet been scheduled, though USTR in Washington is managing this issue.

In the meantime, we continue to have many activities consistent with our TIFA framework. For example, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Tim Stratford paid a visit in late July to discuss the entire agenda. We've had visitors from the Department of the Treasury and other organizations on a regular basis coming here to discuss aspects of our relationship. We've also taken advantage of digital capabilities to have digital video conferences of our experts and Taiwan's. So we have a variety of ways of continuing to push our economic relationship forward, and we will continue to do so. I am confident the next administration will also continue to view relations with our ninth-largest trade partner very seriously.

We're very well aware of Taiwan's interest in a visa waiver. While Taiwan was not on the list which President Bush announced not long ago of new partners with whom we would advance visa waiver agreements, I am sure that the next administration will take a look at the whole question of what other partners might be considered in this process. We have a regular dialogue with the Foreign Ministry and other organizations here on such questions as strengthening the issuance of Taiwan's passport, and other areas that can improve our consular relations. I want to say, as somebody who began my AIT career 27 years ago as a visa officer, we continue today to stress the highest standards of service and efficiency in dealing with the large number of friends from Taiwan who seek consular services, particularly non-immigrant visas.

I'd like to thank all of you for coming. It's always nicer to sit down and talk with you than to walk past you when I'm going in and out of meetings, probably for you as well as for me. I look forward to continuing this opportunity to talk with you from time to time.


Director's Speeches