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Chairman Raymond Burghardt, AIT Press Conference Taipei, March 18, 2009

OT0906E | Date: 2009-03-19
Chairman Raymond Burghardt, AIT Press Conference Taipei, March 18, 2009  (Photo: AIT)

Chairman Raymond Burghardt, AIT Press Conference Taipei, March 18, 2009 (Photo: AIT)

Chairman Burghardt:  It's good to be with all of you this afternoon.  It's always good to be back in Taiwan.  This is in fact my sixth visit as AIT Chairman.  I notice that MOFA said it was the fifth visit so I thought I should clarify that or else MOFA might think there was a secret visit we didn't tell them about.  [Laughter].  I think maybe they didn't count the visit when I came for the inauguration.

I think most importantly, this is the first time I've been here since the inauguration of President Obama in the United States.  I have met today or yesterday or will meet later on this afternoon with President Ma, with National Security Advisor Su Chi, with Foreign Minister Ou, with Wang Jin-pyng at the Legislative Yuan, with P.K. Chiang, the SEF Chairman, and we'll meet later with DPP Chair Tsai Ing-wen, and we also met with, we're going to meet, we haven't done it yet, with Lai Shin-yuan at the Mainland Affairs Council, and also spent time with my friend Vice President Siew.

I also had a good opportunity to meet on this visit with quite a few people from the private sector, the real Taiwan, and also a number of leading figures and academic experts including quite a few economists this time, to get a sense of what's going on here.

As in all my visits here I always bring with me from Washington the view of people in our government, the thoughts of people in our government about our relationship and about the many issues which are of concern to both the United States and Taiwan.  I just want to make the point here that in the meetings I've had in Washington with new people in the Obama administration, I've been very very struck by the strong amount of prior Taiwan experience that you see among key people.  The most notable example, of course, is Admiral Dennis Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence.  To the best of my knowledge this is the first time we've ever had a person at Cabinet level in the United States who had extensive personal experience dealing with Taiwan and Taiwan issues.

We also had Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, come here while I was AIT Director.  People like Jim Steinberg, the new Deputy Secretary of State, had extensive dealings with Taiwan and Taiwan-related issues when he was at the National Security Council.  He told me he visited here seven times when he was out of office during the Bush administration, which was seven times in eight years, which was pretty amazing.  He was frankly very enthusiastic about talking about dealing with working on Taiwan and Taiwan issues in the future.

Besides bringing views from Washington of course I spend a lot of time listening here to people's opinions and views.  What I'm bringing from Washington this time is a lot of goodwill, a lot of high regard for President Ma and his administration.

So I'd like to emphasize that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has a very positive view of the progress that has been made since last May in restoring dialogue across the Taiwan Strait and in the many steps toward improved cross-Strait relations that have been taken.

I emphasize this point because we sometimes read editorials, OpEd pieces, commentaries in the Taiwan press, which speculate that the U.S. must be unhappy because American strategic interests are somehow being undermined by President Ma's policy toward the mainland.  Sometimes I even see statements that allege comments that people have made in the administration, maybe even including myself or Stephen Young which are interpreted as or which are comments we don't recognize as ever having made which are seen as warnings about the pace of cross-Strait progress.

So I just want to assure you that all of these analyses and theories somehow have misunderstood the U.S. position.  We really and truly are enthusiastic about the kind of stability that we now see.

For the United States, this new era of cross-Strait civility is very welcome and very favorable to economic interests.  With cross-Strait dialogue restored, the danger of miscalculation and confrontation has been greatly reduced.  Frankly the absence of dialogue for a number of years was a cause for some worry.

Even from a commercial point of view, the improved transportation and communication with the mainland is something that American businesses based in Taiwan have sought for years and it is now much easier for them to use Taiwan as a base to do business with the mainland.  That's also a positive thing from our point of view.

Our relationship with President Ma and with his administration has been excellent.  We appreciate his commitment to "no surprises" and the fact that that commitment was a real commitment.

As President Ma explained to me when we had dinner in San Francisco last August, and he later said the same thing publicly, his policies and actions are focused on achieving substantive results rather than doing things just for show.  This is the kind of pragmatic approach that's very easy to work with.

We will continue to encourage constructive cross-Strait engagement.  At the same time our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act will remain unchanged.  We believe, as President Ma does as well, that Taiwan must negotiate from a position of confidence.

That's my opening comments and now I welcome your questions.

Washington Post/Economist:  Jane Rickards, Washington Post.  It's good to see you here.

My question would be, you've made very positive comments about Ma's stance politically towards China, and generally you still seem to see that, from your comments, it appears that the U.S. sees the cross-Strait situation as more stable under Ma's leadership.

My question to you would be what now is the most pressing political issue between the U.S. and Taiwan, and was this raised in your conversation with Ma today?  If not, what did you speak about with Ma today?  Thank you.

Chairman Burghardt:  We talked about many of the same things I've just mentioned.  I wanted him to understand, privately as well as to make the points publicly, about the U.S. positive view of what he was doing, make sure he knew that was the view of our new administration.

We talked about the opportunities we would have in the future for talking with each other.

We talked about some of the issues that he's already mentioned as things he'd like to see progress on with the United States: the visa waiver and the various kinds of trade-related and investment-related agreements we can have.

We touched a little bit on some of the military sales issues.  It was the usual sort of agenda of issues.

I would say your question is an interesting one to someone who spent years dealing in one capacity or another with highly pressing issues in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.  It's an interesting question because it makes me realize that we don't have any right now.  It's not like it was a year ago.  Your question is interesting because it sort of underlines the rather fundamental change there is in the character of our dealings with each other.

Kyodo News:  Chairman Burghardt, my name is Max Hirsch with Japan's Kyodo News.

You touched on the issue of military sales with President Ma.  In your talks with President Ma and any other officials, what was said about the F-16C/Ds deal that Taiwan wants to get going?  Our understanding is that the U.S. is kind of going forward on some low-hanging pending deals, low-hanging fruits pending deals like the PAC-3s or the Blackhawk deals.  Stuff that didn't go through in the congressional notification in October so that the U.S. is going to move forward on those first and then get to perhaps new deals or harder pending deals, particularly the F-16s.  So please elaborate on what was said regarding the F-16s.  Thanks.

Chairman Burghardt:  You mentioned the sort of remaining two PAC-3 systems and also the Blackhawks.  As you know if you read carefully what we said at the time on October 3rd when we notified Congress of the $6.5 billion in sales, we made very clear that some items were not being included in that notification but no one was saying they weren't going to be included in the future.  So I'm not going to say when exactly, but it was always fairly clear that we weren't rejecting any of those items.  They simply hadn't been; this wasn't the time to notify them.

As far as F-16s or other planes or other items, we'll deal with those in the dialogue that, as you know, we have all year long with Taiwan.  There is a regular series of meetings we have with each other and we discuss defense needs, we discuss alternative systems, and eventually come to agreement on what we're going to sell.  But there's no point now in trying to pre-judge which system we're going to agree on selling.  Nothing's ruled in, nothing's ruled out.  We'll just see what happens on those things.

Kyodo News:  Can you just elaborate on what President Ma said about the F-16s, or other officials that you've met with said about the F-16s?

Chairman Burghardt:  I think one of the first rules of diplomacy is you let other players speak for themselves.  [Laughter].

AP:  I'm Peter Enav from AP.

Some defense intellectuals, analysts, have suggested that Taiwan does have an important role to play in the U.S. strategic vision in Western Pacific, specifically as part of some sort of anti-China defensive or China defensive perimeter, the first island chain that also involves mainland Japan and Okinawa; and secondarily as a platform that can be used to deny China the ability to interdict sea lanes between Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Is this nonsense?  Is this just sort of Sunday columnist speculation?  Or does this sort of vision of Taiwan permeate decisionmaking echelons in the U.S. government?

Chairman Burghardt:  These guys aren't going to be glad with my answer but I'm glad you asked the question.  It's very interesting you asked that.  It comes up a lot in meetings I have with Chinese and in Taiwan.  One of the things that's fascinated me about the Taiwan subject for many years is that on both sides of the Strait there is often an assumption of a geostrategic character to American policy toward Taiwan which isn't really there.  You often hear almost identical analyses from Beijing and from Taipei and it's something they really seem to agree on, but it isn't real.

I can tell you in years and years of working on U.S.-Taiwan policy that I have never heard in a policy discussion, I have never seen in a policy document on Taiwan any of those great chestnuts of Asian geo-strategy, unsinkable aircraft carrier, first island chain.  You don't see that stuff in U.S. policy documents about Taiwan.  Maybe you did back in the days of Douglas MacArthur, but not in recent decades.

But these ideas do live on in certain think tank circles.  They may exist in the thinking of some neighboring countries at the policy level.  That's very possible.  But not in the United States.  Not in Washington.

It could be something that might seem like an interesting idea to someone in the Navy at the lieutenant commander level or something who thinks about policy, but it's not high policy of the United States.

Reuters:  Ralph Jennings from Reuters.

What level of engagement would Obama like to see between Taiwan and mainland China?  What's ideal ultimately?  What's utopia?  For example, a Hong Kong model?  Exactly what we have now?  More economic engagement but not too much political engagement?  Where is perfection?

Chairman Burghardt:  That's not the way we would frame the issue.  It's not the way we look at it.

This is something for Taiwan and mainland China to decide among themselves.  There is not a view in Washington that there's some kind of red line in terms of cross-Strait engagement.  There's not a concern that moving beyond economic issues into the political or military realm is threatening to us.  This is not the way people are thinking about it, it's not the way people are looking at it.

Again, you may find think tanks in Washington, or you may have people coming out here for Taiwan Relations Act commemoration ceremonies giving speeches who think along those lines, but it's not the way people are talking or thinking inside the administration.

We're comfortable with what is happening and we're comfortable with where it seems to be going.

Of course it's very valuable to hear directly from President Ma, from Su Chi, from his people what their future plans are.  We want to understand what that's all about, but not from the point of view of being afraid it's going to go some place we don't like.

Central News Agency:  I'm Rachel Chan from the Central News Agency.

President Ma says that Taiwan and China will start negotiations on the issue of Taiwan's participation in this year's World Health Assembly in a third country next month.  Has the U.S. government been informed about this development, or is there any role that the U.S. government played in this issue?  Thank you.

Chairman Burghardt:  We did talk to President Ma and to Security Advisor Su Chi about this subject today, of course.  I'll leave it to the Taiwan authorities to tell you the details of what they're going to do and when they're going to do it, but the U.S. role has been really one of support and that includes, as you heard Secretary Clinton publicly stating, that we hope that mainland China would be flexible in terms of finding a way for Taiwan to have meaningful participation in the WHA, and in other organizations in the future.

We follow the issue carefully.  We make sure Beijing knows how we want this to turn out, which is to find a seat for Taiwan in the World Health Assembly meeting.  I don't think anyone expects the U.S. to have a mediating role.

Liberty Times:  David Su from Liberty Times.

We talked about WHA.  In the Ma government they seem to use a different way to participate in WHA.  They directly talk to the Beijing government, not like the DPP government used to.  There seems to be an image that the Beijing government has become the final decider of whether Taiwan can get to WHA or not.  Is this a good way for the U.S. government?

Chairman Burghardt:  I think that there is the reality that Beijing is a member of the UN Security Council and a powerful country in the UN.  The WHO is a UN organization.  I think that it's not appropriate for the U.S. to give judgments on how the Ma government decided to negotiate it or didn't decide to negotiate it.  That's not an issue which the U.S. government needs to or would appropriately have a position on.  I suppose someone could conclude that the reality is that it would be very difficult to get an observership without taking into consideration Beijing's views.  I would be interested in a game plan that showed how you would do that and ignore Beijing.  That would be an interesting game plan to look at.

Taipei Times:  Jenny Hsu from Taipei Times.  Actually I have a couple of questions but I'll ask one at a time.

My first question is in the human rights country report that was released last month -- I believe it was actually composed by AIT -- there are some parts in the report where there is expressed concern or mention that there are concerns about Taiwan's judicial system, media freedom, or human rights since the Ma administration came to power.  I think we probably all know that when we talk about the problem with the judicial system we're referring to former President Chen's prosecution.

My question is what is the U.S. view on Taiwan's current judicial system and does the U.S. government role concur with the report that was written?

Chairman Burghardt:  I'm not sure there was anything in the report that questions the judicial, questioned the media system, was there?  Media freedom?

Taipei Times:  There was actually a section that specifically named Central New Agency might have tampered with some reports when it comes to the melamine scandal.

Chairman Burghardt:  I guess I didn't read it with that level of detail.

The report represents the views of the State Department, and so it's an official document.  Of course it was written in a way so it didn't actually take a position, it simply reported there were people who had some of these views.

The judicial system in Taiwan is very different than the judicial system in the United States.  You have a civil law system as they do in France and Japan and other places, so there are things that can happen in that kind of system which would not be able to happen in the United States.  That's true in France and Germany as well as in Taiwan.  But it's not the position of the United States to take a position saying that civil law systems that allow pre-trial detention more than you would have in the United States or in the UK are therefore unfair judicial systems.

I think we're satisfied that the level of justice in Taiwan is fair.  It's different than our system, but it's fair.

Taipei Times:  What about the parts about the media and human rights?

Chairman Burghardt:  That's a level of detail that I can't really address.

Taipei Times:  Earlier last month at the dinner with AmCham Director Stephen Young talked about there are some "positive signs" that consumers in Taiwan might be able to enjoy the U.S. beef, and we're talking about comprehensive opening.  Can you talk a little about what are some of these positive signs?  We're sort of befuddled with what are the signs.

Chairman Burghardt:  Well, as far as I recall, I think all of you probably know these things, you live here, I'm sure you follow these events more closely than I do.  But I think it's well known that the Health Ministry put out the risk assessment report about a month ago.  If you read that you read that there really isn't any risk.  Virtually no risk at all.

So if the Health Ministry puts out that kind of report most people would conclude that that looks like a very big first step at least toward finally allowing those products to enter the market.  Why would you keep them out if you've concluded that there really is no risk?

That's I think probably the most important positive sign.

We also have the fact that two year ago the OIE, the organization that Taiwan very much wanted to remain a member of and was able to remain a member of, concluded that U.S. beef was safe in all its forms.

So since that scientific conclusion was made by an important international organization to which Taiwan belongs, then you would think that surely a decision based on that scientific conclusion must come along one of these days.  So it's two years later, but you can still hope.

I guess those are the grounds for optimism.

Taipei Times:  Thank you very much for that.

I think Director Young actually gave a timeframe.  I think he said something like early this year.  Is there a negotiation that's taking place to discuss when the actual opening will take place?  And will the TIFA talks be taking place as -- Would the beef issue be discussed in the upcoming TIFA talk?  Who knows when it's going to be held?  Would it be a condition in order for the TIFA talks to be held?

Chairman Burghardt:  First of all, we have not been informed of a schedule for opening the beef market to the remaining excluded items yet.  It would be nice, maybe it will happen sometime soon, but we haven't been told yet.

As far as holding TIFA talks, one thing we're going to have to do first is have the right people in place in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.  A lot of the key people who would take part in those talks are not in office yet.  There are a number of empty chairs there still.  So we'll see when that happens.  And since I don't see any reason not to open the market to beef tomorrow I assume that the wisdom of that approach will be soon seen, and so it won't be an issue any more.  [Laughter]. 

China Post/Economist:  Hello.  My name is Dimitri Bruyas from the China Post.

It seems that now Beijing and Taipei are going to discuss more economic integration, closer economic ties.  So what are the views of the U.S. government regarding this issue?

Chairman Burghardt:  I think we've seen a process of economic integration go on for at least ten years.  In reality this process started a long time ago.  Taiwan and the mainland are one of the world's most perfect examples of an integrated supply chain.  That's economic integration.  Of course it extends all the way from the Silicon Valley through Hsinchu to Kunsan [phonetic].  Putting in place measures which make that supply chain and make that integration work better is what I see going on.

Of course we had a number of steps toward that in the six agreements that have been signed so far. I would note that much of the ground work of those agreements had of course been done under the previous Taiwan government.  That's why it happened so fast.  Now we're seeing new agreements that are going to be discussed in the next round of talks.  You know what it's all about, the financial issues and so forth. 

It's something that had to happen.  It's making something that was working very well work even more smoothly and better.  And it's reducing trade barriers.  As I said before, this is not only a good thing from the point of view of creating a more stable atmosphere politically, but it has real tangible economic benefits for the United States and for American businesses in this part of the world.

I've had a number of people tell me over the past few days real life stories of why this is so great for them.  One lawyer said now I'm doing the legal work for our office in Beijing.  They don't need to have a separate lawyer there any more.  I just fly back and forth and cover them as well as our office here.  It's this kind of thing.

Wall Street Journal Asia:  Hi, this is Ting-I Tsai from Wall Street Journal.

Two quick questions.  You have been talking about how Washington has been very comfortable with what's going on between Taiwan and China.  Can you give us some ideas what would make you uncomfortable?  [Laughter]. 

And by any chance will Washington be able to live with a scenario like Beijing and Taipei are happy together and Washington is no longer needed?  Thank you.

Chairman Burghardt:  As far as what would make us uncomfortable, I think we saw that already.  We saw that prior to May 20th.  [Laughter]. 

For the future, I think there is, behind the question, behind all that kind of thinking, there is more of that Douglas MacArthur thinking again.  There's that unsinkable aircraft carrier kind of view of Taiwan and it just ain't there.

Truly, I think what would make us uncomfortable would be a breakdown in the dialogue.  Some sort of an impasse that leads to tension again.  I think this is not a case of being worried that our interests are going to be sold out somehow or something. 

Remember, let's go back.  What is the central U.S. strategic concern?  It's that the issue be dealt with peacefully, it's that it be dealt with in a way that represents the agreement, the will of the people on both sides of the Strait, particularly the will of the people in Taiwan. 

What would represent a worrisome outcome would be a coercive resolution of Taiwan issues.  But that's not something that we foresee.  I'm not sure anyone else does either.

Economic Daily News:  Walter Liu, Economic Daily News.

Can I say that what you just said is that no matter what issues we're talking about between the Strait, the U.S. regards it as a positive sign.  No matter whether it's economic policies or military. And if it is, as you know we are thinking about talking to the Beijing authorities, the possible, I think the term is "economic cooperation agreement --"

Chairman Burghardt:  It changes about once a month.  [Laughter]. 

Economic Daily News:  So that's coming.  But in a way I think it's undeniable that when it comes to the Taiwan economy we're more and more influenced by China, or depend on them.  Does Washington see that as a risk?  Or is there any other risk to the current cross-Strait engagement?  Thank you.

Chairman Burghardt:  I guess Americans aren't as inclined to zero sum game thinking as people are in other parts of the world.

I think if you want to really get down in the weeds on this thing, when there are trade agreements between any two parties, obviously third parties look at them and want to make sure that they're not going to create exclusive arrangements that are going to hurt the interests of those third parties.  But WTO rules should take care of that.

We're really getting down in the weeds here, but if you really want to know, if you're going to desperately search for something that we would carefully look at, it would be yes, all of our trade lawyers and trade people would want to look at any trade agreement and make sure it's not written in a way that somehow would hurt the ability of U.S. exporters or U.S. investors to participate in the China market or in the Taiwan market.  That would be looked at exactly the same way as if it was a trade agreement between China and ASEAN or between Korea and Japan.  We're going to look at any trade agreement that way and make sure it's not going to affect our interests unfairly in some way.

So yes, in that regard.  That in a sense has nothing to do with the particular nature of the cross-Strait relationship.

I'm not sure what other kinds of concerns you're driving at.  Do you want to follow up and try to explain to me what I should be worried about?  [Laughter]. 

Economic Daily News:  I think I would say the ever-increasing China influence on Taiwan policymaking and its likely implication to U.S.-Taiwan relations.

Chairman Burghardt:  Where do I see this influence in things that have happened so far?  The cross-Strait flights, the cross-Strait shipping, the direct mail service.  As I recall, and as I just said, all those were negotiated under the Chen Shui-bian government.  So if those are going to threaten U.S. interests or indicate Chinese control over too much Chinese influence in Taiwan, that's very interesting because much of the ground work of the negotiations was done under Chen Shui-bian.  I'm still not sure where I'm supposed to be worried.

Washington Post/Economist:  Jane Rickards, Washington Post and the Economist.

I've just got a couple of follow-up questions.  The first one is in response to Peter's question.  You said that the view -- that Taiwan has meant importance in sort of the USG's political -- defense system is outdated.  In that case, why in the view of the Obama administration does China want to retake Taiwan, and why does China view it as so important to incorporate Taiwan into its territory, and why are the 1,500 missiles, I think, directed at Taiwan?  Does the Obama administration purely see this as sort of a cultural nationalistic thing?  That China perceived a lot of humiliation by foreign powers a hundred years ago and they say Taiwan is ethnically Chinese.  Why is Taiwan so critically important to China if there is no advantage for the West in having Taiwan as part of the Western defense system?  That's my first question.  The second one --

Chairman Burghardt:  Let me take that one first.

I don't think it's an issue for an administration to have a view on.  It's an issue for China analysts to have a view on in and out of administrations, and there's plenty you can read on the subject.  I don't think the issue changes much from one year to the next.  You've alluded to some of the reasons.  It's always described as a core issue.  That's a frequent Chinese phrase to describe it.  The unification of China as defined by Beijing is sort of a, I would describe it, and here I'm being a political scientist rather than a U.S. official, as a core political myth of the Chinese leadership.

Washington Post/Economist:  My second question relates to the ECFA.  Taiwan, I would like to know what, Taiwan obviously wants to sign the ECFA because it's worried about the ASEAN+1 Agreements which will come into place next year.  And some analysts have expressed concern that even if Taiwan does sign or enter into an ECFA with China, China could still put diplomatic pressures on other countries such as ASEAN to still not enter into free trade agreements with Taiwan.  Some analysts might argue that's no reason to enter into the ECFA just on the assumption that it will automatically allow Taiwan into free trade agreements with ASEAN countries.

My question would be, would the ECFA help Taiwan sign a free trade agreement with the U.S., and would the U.S. be influenced by any such diplomatic pressure?  That's my first question.

Second, and relating to that, you just mentioned, what kind of wording in the ECFA would the U.S. not want to see?  You mentioned the U.S. is mainly concerned about the fine print and whether it would hurt U.S. businesses and exporters.  What specific things are you thinking of when you said that?  Thank you.

Chairman Burghardt:  This last part, I'm not a trade lawyer or a trade negotiator so I don't want to go into it, but I know from experience and working on these issues at embassies that it's something that always comes up.  There is a sort of need to look at the fine print in these things.

On the first part, there's a lot of speculation and hypotheticals in your question.  I would just say that the view of the United States is that WTO members have the right to negotiate free trade agreements with each other.  If some countries have different views on that, that's their views, but that would be the view of the United States.

Reuters:  A very quick follow-up question on the F-16 issue.

Has Taiwan formally applied under Obama's term so far to acquire those aircraft, or has it indicated it would apply?

Chairman Burghardt:  I'm going to leave our discussions on what weapons to sell or alternative systems as something we deal with privately.

AFP:  Benjamin Yeh from AFP.

My question is about the Chen case.  Local media says the former President Chen and his family may have stashed money abroad, huge money, including the United States.  My question is, has the Ma administration ever approached Washington for kind of legal assistance in the investigation into this case?

Chairman Burghardt:  That's a legitimate question.  I don't really know, I don't factually know the answer to that.  I don't think so.  We can find out.  That's a perfectly good question.  I don't know the answer to that one, whether we've been approached about tracing money or discovery of money or funds or something.  I don't know.

The U.S. is not a good place to hide money, so I kind of doubt it, but we'll get you an answer to that question.

Associated Press:  Peter Enav.

This past Monday the Defense Ministry issued its Quadrennial Defense Report that's now mandated by Taiwanese law.  And earlier that morning the Defense Minister made some comments and at the press conference marking the roll-out of the report and some very senior military officials also made some comments.  I think one of the conclusions that a lot of people drew from the content of the report, but even more to the point, the Defense Minister's comments and some of his subordinates' comments later in the day, was that Taiwan was adopting perhaps a more robust military stance toward China than some people had anticipated, particularly in regard to its military acquisition wish list, and also its attitude towards discussions on confidence building measures which was so conditioned as to make it a virtual impossibility in our lifetimes, perhaps.

My question is whether the United States government had any input with Taiwanese defense or political officials in the run-up to Monday's events.

Chairman Burghardt:  I can flatly say no.  The United States did not have any input into the remarks about conditions for confidence building measures.  We learned those views the same time you did.  The rest of the content also did not play a role in sort of suggesting or anything like that.  No.

Apple Daily:  Sean Liu from Apple Daily.

Today there are a lot of questions regarding the relations between Taiwan and China, and you mentioned that the U.S. was feeling comfortable about the recent developments.  But I'm just wondering, actually, if the U.S. is the only super power in the world now and it should have strategic interests in every area.

So regarding U.S. interests in East Asia, in the past Taiwan was very close ally with U.S. and asking the U.S. to help Taiwan have some space in the international arena.  But now President Ma's government is trying to take a different approach.  Now the Taiwan government approaches Beijing directly.  So some would feel that it seems the U.S. is now not so important as before to the Taiwan government.  So I just wondering, is this a reality regarding U.S. influence on Taiwan reducing right now?  And if that's a fact, then will the U.S. government feel disappointed?

Chairman Burghardt:  Once again, another attempt to get me to say that we're desperately anxious over the developments here.

First of all, just a factual point.  In terms of the way we use the word "ally," the U.S. has five allies in the Asia Pacific region -- Korea, Japan, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines.  With the end of the U.S.-ROC Defense Treaty way back in the ‘70s, Taiwan was no longer in the legal sense an ally of the United States.

As to the question, "is U.S. influence being reduced":  Well, if U.S. influence in Taiwan was greater during the Chen Shui-bian period, you could have fooled me.  That would be my answer to that.

In terms of are we concerned about Taiwan's direct approach to China:  Remember, this is the restoration of direct talks that existed before.  I was in Shanghai when Koo Chen-fu came and visited Wang Daohan.  These talks were going on before.  This is not something completely new.  So seeing the restoration of this direct approach is, as I said, a good thing.  Direct talks mean less misunderstanding.  Less misunderstanding means less likelihood of nasty surprises.  So this is not something that worries us.

Taipei Times:  Jenny Hsu from Taipei Times.

In the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. made a commitment to Taiwan security.  Fast forward to 2009 at the moment, does the U.S. still view that China is a military threat to Taiwan?  That's my first question.

Chairman Burghardt:  The whole purpose of defense measures and of contingency measures is deterrence.  The U.S. strategy toward Taiwan over many administrations has always been what's been called dual deterrence.  The military deterrence of Beijing and political deterrence of Taipei, each side from doing something foolish.  The policy of deterrence remains in effect.  The capability to act in the event of a threat to Taiwan security remains in place.  The commitment to help Taiwan to acquire the equipment needed for its defense remains in effect.  So we don't need to judge the degree of threat that might exist from one day to the next or from one year to the next, but we leave our deterrence in place and we leave our capability in place so that if there is a threat it won't do any harm.

Taipei Times:  The 1,500 missiles that China has pointed towards Taiwan, does the U.S. see that as a military threat to Taiwan?  And if so, what does the U.S. plan to do with it?  And if not, why not?

Chairman Burghardt:  What are you suggesting we do about it?

Taipei Times:  You tell me

Chairman Burghardt:  Bomb them?  [Laughter]. 

Taipei Times:  You earn a lot more than I do.  [Laughter].  The point is, I guess I'm trying to find out what is exactly, what exactly is the U.S. commitment to Taiwan security as it has outlined in the TRA, because I think the ambiguous language has worked to its favor or not to its favor.  So at this moment I'd just like to know what is the U.S. government's definition of commitment to security.  Thank you.

Chairman Burghardt:  The U.S. has very clearly and publicly stated that the 1500 missiles or 1100 missiles, whatever it is, that are facing Taiwan are a threat.  That they are threatening.  And that they should go away.  We have said that very clearly.

As far as what is the U.S. doing about it, well, in addition to telling China that we want to see those missiles go away, we do what we've done for the last 30 years under the TRA which is to provide Taiwan with military support, not just equipment but training and advice and all the sort of soft power package of assistance.  There's lots we do besides equipment; lots of interaction with the Taiwan military.

Now we have to find somebody else to replace Admiral Blair to come and observe the Hankuang exercises, but it looks like we've lined somebody up who's also very good.

But in addition, I think it's no secret to say that like most militaries we have contingency plans.  I, as many of you know, I spend a lot of time in Honolulu and I spend a lot of time at the Pacific Command.  That's one of the things they do there.  They worry about "what if"."

Thank you.

Press Roundtable

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