Former AIT Head Bullish on U.S.-Taiwan Ties

Taiwan Journal: Many important events have happened within the past few months in terms of cross-strait relations, such as the cessation of the National Unification Council, opposition Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to the United States, PRC President Hu Jintao’s meeting with U.S. President George W. BUSH as well as the U.S.-Taiwan spat over President Chen Shui-bian’s transit stop in the United States. How have these events influenced the development of relations between Taiwan, the United States and China?

Richard C. Bush III: These events may not have been initiated to have an impact on U.S.-Taiwan relations, but they may have had side impact on U.S.-Taiwan relations. The cessation of the National Unification Council certainly did have an impact because the U.S. believe that this was part of a package of commitments that President Chen made in his 2000 inaugural speech and which he reiterated in 2004. They were the commitments to the people of Taiwan, to China, and to the international community, and they are very important to the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait.

People in Taiwan know very clearly that the NUC episode led to very intense discussions between Washington and Taipei. It also led to concern in Beijing about what might happen next: If this commitment was withdrawn, then what could happen to the rest? As for Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to the U.S., Ma spoke here at the Brookings Institute among other places. His speeches, I believe, were intended to signal that the KMT and he personally had an approach to cross-strait relations, to regional stability and to U.S.-Taiwan relations which is moderate and responsible. In general, I think the message was well received.

On the other hand, questions were also asked by Ma’s American interlocutors about the difficulties that have arisen as to passing the special budgets for various weapon system and the responsibility of the pan-blue parties for those difficulties. So the visit was not a total success.

As for Hu Jintao’s visit to the U.S., Taiwan is definitely one of the issues that Hu wanted to raise. It’s my impression that Beijing was satisfied with that discussion. But I also had the impression that President BUSH did not say anything that was new about our policy toward Taiwan. Neither did he say anything that would in any way undermine Taiwan’s interests.

As for the transit stop controversy, I believe President Chen had his own reasons for adopting another itinerary. What’s important are the subsequent developments in U.S.-Taiwan relations that are much more positive. In his meeting with the AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt on June 8, Chen reaffirmed the “four noes” from his 2000 and 2004 inaugural addresses, which was immediately welcomed by the U.S. I hope that this is a part of a sustained pattern of words and actions that will restore Taiwan-U.S. relations to a relationship of converging goals and good communication.