Straight Talk on Taiwan Arms Budget: Stephen Young's 26 Oct. Press Conference
The age of American 'strategic ambiguity' on Taiwan is over. AIT director Stephen Young understands that Taiwan is a democracy and has appealed directly to the Taiwanese people on the arms budget. This is a remarkable document and well worth reading carefully.
I also have to say there has been an awful lot of discussion about what America's
interests and America's positions on issues of concern to Taiwan are, sometimes not very accurate, so what I would like to do is give you a chance on the record to discuss those things from an authoritative perspective. I'll give you an example of what I mean, and I want to stress that I'm not picking on Lian He Bao [聯合報United Daily News] but the example concerns them. Last week, there was an article that sought to characterize U.S. relations with the Chen administration as "strained." I just have to stress that that's not the case; in fact, we have a very broad cooperation with the Chen Administration, and as an example, we are working very closely with them on modernization of Taiwan's defense capabilities. We intend to continue to work on issues of mutual concern with the Chen Administration until the end of its term in office.
Young is saying a number of important things here. First, the US is not going to allow the Blue media to characterize the nature of US-Taiwan relations. A central theme in Blue propaganda is that the Chen administration has mismanaged relations with Taiwan's most important ally. The Chen administration is strongly vindicated here.
Note also the last sentence:
The US does not want Chen to step down.
We intend to continue to work on issues of mutual concern with the Chen Administration until the end of its term in office.
I think it's also important to avoid things that set back democratic institution-building. A couple of recent examples are Thailand and Hungary. Even though Thailand faced a difficult domestic situation, I think the intervention by the military set back the progress of democracy in Thailand and was bad for the region. Similarly in Hungary, we have been treated to scenes of rioting in the street and clashes between protestors and police which, in a country that just threw off Communism and the Soviet yoke fifteen years ago, is really something that concerns a lot of us.
Translation: people is in the US government understand that Shih Ming-teh's protest movement is fundamentally undemocratic.
I would add that the means and the ends should be in sync. I have in
mind that there should be a sense of decorum, or what at one point I called "you yi dianr limao 有一點兒禮貌" [a bit of courtesy]. I think there was an incident in the legislature two days ago that illustrates my point. These images do not promote the concept of Taiwan's peaceful democratic transition.
Here Young is pretending to refer to the Li Ao spray can incident the other day but in fact is talking about James Soong's disgraceful behavior on National Day Oct. 10th.
As a side note, would somebody tell the Chinese pedants over at AIT to pull their heads out and stop using retroflex 'r's in Taiwan (一點兒). Way uncool.
Now for the good stuff:
I fully respect Taiwan's democracy and I respect the fact that the people of Taiwan
ultimately have the responsibility and the privilege of deciding these matters. But I think that as Taiwan's indispensable partner in security, the United States has a special interest and should speak its mind. I hope through you, the print and video media of Taiwan, to reach the voters and the citizens of Taiwan with my message.
Here Young is signaling an important shift in the US approach to Taiwan. In the past, AIT dealt with the KMT government over the heads of the Taiwanese people. Young recognizes that the Taiwanese people are the ultimate arbiters of their fate and he is addressing them directly on this critical issue. One of the key features of the old KMT and Chinese nationalism is the canard that outsiders cannot talk to the Chinese (or Taiwanese people) directly and that to do so abrogates Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan has grown up, and the US, or at least Young, is recognizing that fact.
So what is Young's message?
The message is as follows: Taiwan needs to pass a robust defense budget in this fall's legislative session.
Crystal clear. End of strategic ambiguity. Finally someone in the US administration who understands that what we need is clarity, not obfuscation. Tellingly, Ma Ying-jeou complained that Young would have advanced his cause if he had been more 'wan3zhuan3' or indirect. Bullshit. The Taiwanese people need to hear what their security partner thinks directly without the mediation of paternal nationalists like Ma.
And just in case Ma was not listening carefully:
The United States is watching closely and will judge those who take responsible positions on this as well as those who play politics. Because fundamentally, this moment and this opportunity could pass and be missed by Taiwan if it doesn't seize it.
Again this is 指桑罵槐 'pointing at the mulberry while cursing the acacia.' While the immediate target is James Soong, Young and the US are in fact rightly holding Ma Ying-jeou responsible for the arms budget impasse.
The US does not want to see Taiwan go the way of South Korea and become a Chinese client state. After years of wondering if anyone in Washington gets Taiwan, we have an answer: Steve Young does.
Taiwan arms budget