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2009-10-22 | AIT Director William A. Stanton Press Conference

Press Conference - William A. Stanton, Director, American Institute in Taiwan

OT-0919E | American Cultural Center, Taipei | Date: October 22, 2009
AIT Director William A. Stanton Press Conference

AIT Director William A. Stanton Press Conference

Director Stanton:  Da jia hao.  I have been here about eight weeks now, and when I first arrived, I said I'd be meeting with you once I had a chance to familiarize myself again with Taiwan and to get around and talk to people.  In fact, it's been a very busy period.  It was only yesterday that I began to unpack my household effects, which had been sitting here in our warehouse for a couple of months.

I've had very good conversations and discussions with everyone in the government, from President Ma and other members -- not everyone, but leading members of the Cabinet -- and those discussions are ongoing.  Our discussions have been very cordial, very detailed and very substantive.  The focus has been on how best to strengthen ties between the United States and Taiwan.  I've also had the opportunity of meetings with leading representatives of the opposition to hear their views.

I've also gotten to travel a little bit.  I've been to Kaohsiung twice: the first time to attend the memorial service for the victims of the typhoon, and the second time to visit our excellent AIT office in Kaohsiung, to meet with local business leaders and with government officials, and to discuss the overall situation in Kaohsiung.  I also had a tour of the port and talked to our people there who are working with the Taiwan authorities on the Container Security Initiative to ensure that shipments going through the port are safe.  I also had an opportunity to look around a little bit, including seeing what is now a very nicely restored Love River.

More recently, I went just this past week to Taichung for the very good jazz festival there.  I met the very dynamic Mayor Hu, who brought the jazz festival to town, and I opened an exhibition of photographs at the national museum there about U.S. "jazz ambassadors" from the 1960s and 1970s. In both Kaohsiung and Taichung, I was able to stay in very modern, very beautiful hotels, which I know didn't exist 23 years ago.

Here in Taipei, I've been trying to re-familiarize myself with the city.  I've been to the top of 101, which didn't exist when I was last here.  I've also been back to the Shilin Night Market.  I like that market very much.  I've also just walked around a little bit.  I actually also visited beautiful new malls.  [There are] very expensive stores here.  I didn't buy anything.   I've had an opportunity everywhere to sample Taiwan's delicious food.  It's been a challenge, because I think I've gained weight since I arrived.

I've also engaged in a couple of activities that signify the importance of our cultural, educational and academic exchanges.  A few days after I arrived, I hosted a Fulbright reception here.  More recently, I went out to Chengchi University to the Institute of International Relations to the opening of the MacArthur Center for Security Studies.  As a representative of the United States, I'm proud that one of our most important philanthropic organizations, the MacArthur Foundation, contributed to the founding of this center, which will be focusing on cross-Strait relations.

I've been in the Foreign Service 31 years and I know you usually only have a three-year tenure, so it's important from the start to be very active, to set an agenda to achieve goals.  I feel we've already made some progress.  My second day here I visited the site of what will be our new office compound in Neihu, where we've already built an access road.  There were some permit issues when we first got here -- a lot of paperwork -- but with the cooperation of Premier Wu and also with Mayor Hau, I think we've made rapid progress toward getting going on completing the first phase of our project, which will include perimeter walls [and] entrances.  I think we're going to make rapid progress.  I don't think you can exaggerate the importance of our new office compound.  The last figure I heard when I was in Washington was that it's going to cost at least $226 million.  It will be the first and only building ever established in Taiwan to house a foreign representative office.  I think it's going to be an important symbol of the U.S. commitment to Taiwan and to this relationship, and of our friendship.

We've also made some progress in other areas.  As President Ma, Health Minister Yang and other officials here have already indicated, we are very close to an agreement on expanding access for U.S. beef to the Taiwan market.  We're already in discussions about the timing of the next round of our TIFA talks for our wider trade agenda.  We've also been having discussions, not only here in Taiwan but also with Washington, on a way forward for the visa waiver program and also for an extradition agreement.

We've already had some high-level visits this week.  The governor of Kansas is visiting, with his wife and [the] secretary of commerce.  Next week, the governor of Vermont State will be visiting here.  These visits are important for expanding trade and investment in both directions.  They're also important for expanding personal ties as well.  Next week, Elaine Chao, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, will [is] visit[ing].  She's also the spouse of Senator Mitch McConnell, and she'll be here for talks.

So as I said, it's been pretty busy for me and I expect it will continue to be busy, but I'm really looking forward to continuing to work very hard to strengthen relations between Taiwan and the United States.

Moderator: Who would like to ask the first question of Director Stanton?  Rachel, please.

Rachel Chan (Central News Agency): Hello sir.  My name is Rachel Chan from the Central News Agency.   My question will be about the U.S. beef.  It has been months that we have heard about the discussions on the issue as being in the final stage.  But[,] could you be more specific about what issues and differences there are still that are making the two sides unable to seal the deal?  Is it that hard because it is a political decision?  Thank you.

Director Stanton: Well, I think there has been an agreement in principle for quite a while because of the - I notice that every time I make a gesture there are more photographs, catch me looking really bad [laughter]- there's been an agreement in principle for quite some time.  I also worked on the beef agreement when I was in Korea and I know U.S. beef has met all the criteria for international organizations which review the safety of beef.  I think the government is understandably concerned about sensitivities, peoples' concerns, about beef.  And so I think there has been an interest in a gradual approach to the re-opening of the market.  And, you know, we want to in the most cooperative, and detailed, and careful way to roll out this decision.  So, I think it has largely been procedural in recent weeks and doesn't really have much to do with the fundamental agreement that U.S. beef is safe.    

Moderator: Next question.  Yes, please.  Ms. Fan.

Daphne Fan (Voice of America): Daphne Fan with the Voice of America.  I have two questions.   We know that President Hu and President Obama had a phone call conversation last night, yesterday, and that he is going to visit China next month.  So, what's the U.S. position towards Taiwan when U.S.-China relations are getting closer and closer?  That is my first question.  And secondly, my second question is what is the timing, purpose, meaning and issues of the possible visit of the Veteran Minister Eric Shinseki next year?  Thank you.

Director Stanton: Well, first on the U.S. relationship with the mainland, you know the simple fact is that China is clearly one of the most important countries in the world.  So it is in everybody's interest, the U.S., and certainly Taiwan's as well, that the U.S. try to have a cooperative relationship with mainland China.  So, it's inevitable that there are going to be meetings and exchanges with the Chinese mainland leadership.  I think there has already been an announcement out of the White House that one of the main topics of discussion when they spoke was on climate change, which is one of the principal issues of concern.  Because, I don't know where we rank now, but the United States and China are clearly two of the leading emitters of greenhouse gases.  So, it is important that we come to some kind of understanding on how to address this problem, I believe.

With regard to what that meeting means for Taiwan, U.S. policy under the Obama administration toward Taiwan has not changed.  It is still based on the Taiwan Relations Act and I don't think we can expect any surprises in that regard.

With regard to the reported visit of Secretary Shinseki, I have seen those reports.  I don't know where they came from because I haven't seen them in any government channels.   There has been no decision about a visit by anyone at this point, including General Shinseki.  So, I know that report got started and there has been a lot of discussion on it, but there is no Washington decision that General, now Secretary Shinseki is coming.

But I would certainly welcome a visit at the cabinet level by Secretary Shinseki or anyone else.  U.S. policy has always allowed for the possibility of such visits by cabinet secretaries working in [departments for technical or commercial] technical and commercial agencies.  So, I would certainly welcome visits in the future.  There hasn't been one in a while.  So, we'll see.

Moderator:  Peter.

Peter Enav (Associated Press): My name is Peter and I am from Associated Press.  In the bi-annual report that the Defense Ministry here issued the day before yesterday, it was noted that China is becoming increasingly active, and not without success, in its efforts to exclude unnamed third parties from the military sphere in the Taiwan Strait.  An obvious reference to the United States.  Is the fact that this kind of perception exists in the defense ministry here, and this report went out under the name of the defense minister, does the fact that this perception exists cause any concern for you or for the United States government or are you basically indifferent to it?

Director Stanton: Well, I think it is no secret that the U.S. government has taken note of the growing Chinese mainland military power.  It has been reported, I guess, in some of our own publications.  And, I think that this is probably inevitable as China grew more prosperous.  We certainly don't agree, I think, with the Chinese mainland assessment of what international waters are.  We don't accept a definition that includes their economic zone.  So this is an ongoing issue to be resolved and it is not really for me to comment on that.  But, it doesn't take this report, however, for us to decide one way or another about what we need to do to meet the self-defense needs, capabilities of Taiwan.  That is always a subject of ongoing review.  It is not related to any particular report or any particular development.  It is an ongoing process of review about what is needed in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act to provide support for Taiwan's sufficient self-defense capability.  So that review continues. 

Peter Enav (Associated Press): What about the F-16s?

Director Stanton: The inevitable question.  A year ago in October we made a decision on $6.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.  It included a range of defensive equipment, including Apache helicopters, Harpoon missiles, Javelin anti-tank missiles, up-grades for E-2 surveillance aircraft, spare parts, and other equipment.  We also have a very vibrant ongoing exchange program between our militaries.  Every year there are about 300 Taiwan military students in the United States in one training program or another.  So, sometimes we only see military sales as part of the military relationship, but there is a lot more that goes on.  And that continues.  The question of further arms sales is still a matter of ongoing review.   It will be made in accordance with our assessment of what Taiwan's self-defense needs are.  That will be the principal criterion for any decision. 

Peter Harmsen (AFP):  I have two questions.  My first question in your talks with members of the Taiwan government and opposition, have you come across any concern about what the implications are when President Obama meets with Hu Jintao in Beijing next month?  My second question is that you said U.S. policy towards Taiwan is not going to change, based on the Taiwan Relations Act.  That act was passed more than a generation ago.  Since then, the regional and international situation has changed considerably, and also the domestic situations on both the mainland and in Taiwan have also changed tremendously.  Isn't it difficult to carry on a policy based on such an outdated piece of legislation?

Director: The answer to your first question is "no and no." I haven't heard anyone express concerns about that meeting in particular.  We have meetings all the time with Chinese mainland leaders.  Although this is President Obama's first trip to China, I haven't heard any particular concerns raised either by government officials or by the opposition about this meeting.  There's no reason to be concerned about Taiwan in particular.  I think the agenda is going to be probably more globally oriented, I would say.  To the extent it's regional it may be looking in other directions [from] than the cross-Strait relationship, although I'm sure the issue of Taiwan will arise.

The U.S. Constitution is over 200 years old and we still abide by that.  No one in America has called for its revision or abrogation.  It's stood us pretty well.  I would also note that the principal communiqués governing our relationship with the mainland -- two of them anyway -- are older than the Taiwan Relations Act.  The mainland, I don't think, has called for a revision of those either.  I think the document has served us pretty well as a guideline to our policy.  I don't think the age of the document, if the fundamental principles in it are correct, makes a difference.  That document reflects U.S. interests and reflects U.S. values and those don't change all that quickly.  Interests and values are the bedrock of our relationship with Taiwan.

Jenny Hsu (Taipei Times):  Thank you for taking my question.  I know you talked about the Visa Waiver Program last Friday at the forum.  To quote you, you reflected on your experience and South Korea and you talked about how it's doable in Taiwan but you also mentioned that the passport issuance procedure in Taiwan could be an obstacle in Taiwan's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program.  In your opinion what are some of the things that could be ameliorated or improved about the Taiwan passport or travel document procedures that would better Taiwan's chance to be included in the Visa Waiver Program?

Director Stanton: The criteria for the Visa Waiver Program are determined by U.S. law, so it's not a political decision, and there are a number of steps that have to be taken.  In the case of passports one is, of course, there needs to be an e-chip, with biographic data included that can be read.  The most important factor probably would be [in the case of] how passports are issued here because a personal appearance is not always required to obtain a passport, and that's a central criterion that has to be met because there have been cases where adults and children, for example, who are not citizens of Taiwan have been found with Taiwan passports. So if personal appearances were required this would be a big step forward.  There are some other criteria including sharing information on lost and stolen passports, either directly or indirectly, and other criminal information sharing, but probably the initial largest hurdle would be this issue of how passports are issued here in Taiwan.  The government here and the authorities are well aware of this, and I believe they want to address that issue.

Moderator:  So far all the questions have been from international journalists or from English-language newspapers.  I'd like to invite a question from a Chinese-language newspaper.

Lei Ying (Economic Daily News):  We would like to know how to quickly improve the Taiwan-U.S. economic and trade relationship.  You talked about TIFA.  When is a likely date to have the TIFA meeting?

Director Stanton: We have sometimes forgotten that we have already made a great deal of progress within the past year.  For example, Taiwan, because of its great efforts on intellectual property rights, was removed from what we call the "Special 301 Watchlist."  Taiwan also reached agreement with us in accordance with the W. T. O. on government procurement so that we both have the access to do contracts for our government purchases on both sides.  We also have many other ongoing activities.  We have a competitiveness forum which has had several meetings.  So I think first of all there has been progress.   I would say the first step will be to get over the hurdle of beef.   We're hoping -- and we've said this for some time -- we can hold TIFA talks before the end of the year on an expanded agenda.  As to what specifics, in part, we're coming up with some specific proposals on a range of areas, we're looking to hear from Taiwan what particular things they'd like to see.  Down the road, more ambitiously, certainly there's interest in talking about a bilateral investment agreement, talking about some kind of double taxation agreement, but for right now, just to get back to the table and talk about the range of issues is the first step.

Roger Lip (Formosa TV):  We've noticed that you have met the Minister Wang before and talked about the former president Chen Shui-bian's case and we need to know exactly what the content of the conversation between you and Wang Ching-feng; what's the situation in which you talked about this topic?

Director Stanton:  Some of those reports were interesting because some people were accusing me of interfering with Taiwan's internal affairs and other people were accusing me of not interfering enough.  In fact, that [subject] issue was not our principal subject of concern.  It was an introductory meeting with the Minister of Justice.  Two of the main subjects on the agenda:  one was an extradition agreement and the other one was some of our training programs in which Taiwan judges and prosecutors have participated.

Over the course of discussion of many issues, I simply noted that there have been some people in the U.S. who had commented about the trial of the former President and expressed concern.  It was not an extended discussion and I certainly did not advocate any particular view on the issue.

In 31 years in the Foreign Service I have learned that you have to be very careful in what you say and you never, never interfere in domestic government affairs (干涉內政的事).

Chiu Yu-tzu (Bureau of National Affairs):  My question is you just mentioned China and the U.S. have been working on talks over greenhouse gas emissions.  My question is what about with Taiwan?  Are there any ongoing projects working on the same issue and have you ever talked with any high-ranking Taiwanese officials on energy issues?  Do you think Taiwan has to shape their policies slightly or significantly to cut their carbon dioxide emissions?

Director Stanton: My understanding is actually that there has been an environmental dialogue for some thirteen years.  I've discussed climate change.  In fact, it's also been raised by the Ma administration particularly in the context of one of the reasons why Taiwan would like to participate in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Our mission has extensively reported on this issue back to Washington.  We don't give advice to Taiwan on what it should do; we exchange views on what needs to be done, not only by Taiwan but also by the United States and indeed by all industrialized countries which are the major emitters of greenhouse gases.  It's an important project, an important goal we all share.  So the simple answer is yes, we have talked about the climate change issue, out of concern to both sides.  It's not the first time.  We have a science and technology officer who regularly reports on environmental and energy issues and interacts with other agencies on a regular basis.  I believe there's also a formal dialogue that takes place.  I think it's a common concern about how we're going to meet the problems of the future.



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