Saturday, December 12, 2009

AIT chief reassures Taiwan

Raymond F. Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), reassured President Ma Ying-jeou on Nov. 24th that U.S. policy towards Taiwan has not changed. He came to Taipei to brief the Taiwan government following President Barack Obama’s recent visit to China. Both issued statements of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territory.

During a joint press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Obama mentioned the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the US legislation that is the framework governing unofficial relations between Taipei and Washington, including sales of arms to defend Taiwan.

In the December 2009 issue of Global View, the Taipei-based monthly magazine surveyed Taiwanese citizens following Obama's visit to Asia. More than 46 percent of the respondents trusted Obama, while only 17.5 percent trusted China's president. In the same survey, 52.3 percent believed that the United States would secure Taiwan's interests, while only 19.6 percent believed that China would do so.

Issues discussed at the meeting with Burghardt included a trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) between Taiwan and the US, the possibility of the two sides signing an extradition treaty, the US sale of F16C/D jet fighters to Taiwan, US beef imports and a visa-free program for Taiwanese visitors.

On US beef, the Taipei Times reported that the Ma administration would impose the so-called “three controls and five checks” measures. This refers to border controls and various safety screening measures. Ma said that none of the measures would violate the protocol on bone-in beef signed with Washington and would conform to the regulations of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The import of American beef remains the most contentious issued on the table. Taiwan recently signed a protocol with the US to expand market access for US beef to include bone-in beef and other beef products that have not been contaminated with “specific risk materials.” In a separate meeting with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, Burghardt said the issue of beef imports from the US had been politicized ahead of Taiwan’s December 5th local elections and is basically a “phony” issue. It was an issue which Wang, Premier Wu Den-yih, and DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen have all disagreed on.

Premier Wu said it is a real issue of concern to the public and the government promised to adopt administrative measures to block imports of ground beef and bovine offal. Chairperson Tsai had a long argument with Burghardt on the issue. Meanwhile, Taiwan Solidarity Union chairman Huang Kun-huei said the Consumer Union – a US based consumer protection foundation – is still engaged in a dispute with the US Food and Drug Administration over testing in US facilities.

The Taipei-based China Times reported the beef market opening measure has drawn strong criticism from opposition politicians and consumer rights activists who are launching a referendum campaign to force the government to renegotiate the bilateral beef trade protocol signed with Washington in October. The paper reported that the Taiwan Consumers’ Foundation collected over 190,000 signatures to initiate the referendum, but due to the election they were not presented to the Central Election Committee for examination to avoid further polarization of the issue.

The paper also said the long-stalled TIFA talks between Taipei and Washington are expected to resume in early 2010. This was according to William A. Stanton, the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, who addressed a forum hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei on Nov. 24th.

Stanton said the TIFA’s agenda should not be limited to economic and trade issues. “Given the shared values and beliefs between Taiwan and the United States, issues of mutual cooperation concerning the enhancement of transparency in government, energy, environmental protection and labor need to be addressed,” he said. “U.S. imports of rice and pork should also be included.”

For those in the Ma administration and the opposing Democratic Progressive Party who feared Obama’s visit to China as a potential back track of US commitments to Taiwan, Stanton insisted that there has been no change in US policy toward Taiwan. As for the issue of beef imports, Stanton said he is somewhat frustrated in dealing with the issue, but it is also a positive reflection of Taiwan’s democracy.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.