By Sean Chen
In a Thursday seminar titled “The United States and Taiwan: An Enduring Friendship,” Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan’s Board of Trustees James Moriarty spoke about historical, contemporary and future U.S.-Taiwan relations and addressed the challenges and merits of democratic systems. The event was sponsored by the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC).
The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) is a private, non-profit organization established by and funded through Congress. It serves U.S. interests in Taiwan and acts as a de facto U.S. embassy. As Chairman of the AIT, Moriarty engages in substantive discussion and decision-making with both U.S. and Taiwanese officials on diplomatic, security and economic issues.
Moriarty clarified the U.S. foreign policy approach towards Taiwan. The U.S. position is driven by acknowledgement of the One China policy, consideration for the enduring interests of the U.S. and the desire for cross-strait stability, he said.
Moriarty also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to provide Taiwan with defensive arms and expressed concern at the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) recent actions, including military activity close to Taiwanese airspace and the Dominican Republic’s switch of recognition to the PRC that have increased cross-strait tensions. He added that he takes issue with China’s lack of transparency about its strategic intentions and unwillingness to renounce force as an option against Taiwan.
“U.S. cross-strait policy is not directed solely at one side of the strait or the other,” Moriarty said. “There should be no unilateral attempts to change the status quo. When the United States sees something that threatens the status quo […] we speak up.”
Quoting the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), Moriarty emphasized that any effort to determine Taiwan’s status through non-peaceful means is a threat to regional security and a concern to the U.S.
“Stability in the Taiwan strait is essential,” Moriarty said. “It is this enduring interest in peace and security that undergirds the U.S. policy […] to maintain [the U.S.’s] capacity to resist any resort to force.”
Nevertheless, Moriarty remarked that the U.S. commitment to the TRA does not secure Taiwan from an increasingly volatile cross-strait environment and that Taiwan should work to effectively deter aggression and mount a defense if necessary.
“[Taiwan] can and must do more to provide for its own security,” Moriarty said.
When asked why Taiwan’s military spending as a percentage of GDP sits at two percent despite its geopolitical position, Moriarty pointed to Taiwan’s shift toward democracy and away from any intention of reclaiming the mainland as possible contributing factors.
“Unless there is a sense of urgency […] social issues begin to loom even more important in the calculus of politicians who need to run the country,” Moriarty said. “Only experts who follow the cross-strait relations will be worried about specific items” with regards to military defense.
Moriarty also expressed the U.S. desire for Taiwan to increase its participation in international organizations. Particularly, he mentioned the realm of public health, where he sees Taiwan potentially making a positive impact through international involvement. This comes amid Taiwan’s recent obstruction from attending the World Health Assembly (WHA) by the People’s Republic of China.
“The decision [to exclude Taiwan from the WHA] was deeply troubling,” Moriarty said. “This and other attempts by China to exclude Taiwan from international organizations prevent the international community from benefiting from Taiwan’s expertise, harms cross-strait relations and runs counter to Beijing’s own professed goal of winning support of the people of Taiwan.”
Moriarty did acknowledge Taiwan’s support in international initiatives like the sanctions on North Korea and the coalition to defeat ISIS.
Moriarty also explained the current cultural, commercial and other exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. as stipulated by the TRA.
He remarked on growing bilateral trade under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, with Taiwan being the U.S.’s 11th largest trading partner (the U.S. being Taiwan’s second largest) and top purchaser of U.S. agricultural exports.
Moriarty pointed out, though, that trade “irritants” between the U.S. and Taiwan must be dealt with for a strengthened trade relationship.
“There are long-standing issues where Taiwan has made commitments and has failed to meet those commitments,” Moriarty said. “We don’t want to buy the same horse over and over again.”
Given current U.S. commitments in various trade questions, Moriarty suggested that Taiwan address the aforementioned trade issues unilaterally.
When asked about what conditions would need to exist for reunification to be possible, Moriarty emphasized the importance of agreement from both sides of the strait. He added that such a situation may only take place if China makes strides towards liberalization and democratization.
“When you talk to [young people in Taiwan], you realize that these folks have what I like to call a ‘democracy chip’ in their DNA,” Moriarty said, referring to ingrained expectations of political participation and freedom of expression.
Highlighting the lack of democratic freedoms in China, Moriarty remarked that reunification is unlikely under the current atmosphere. Moriarty also criticized the Chinese government’s recent crackdown on what it deems improper characterizations of Taiwan’s statehood by companies and websites.
“It’s unjustified … it does not accomplish anything, and there’s very little we can do about it,” Moriarty said. “It’s bullying, and it’s childish.”
Though he acknowledged that democratic systems aren’t perfect, he also praised them for their accountability mechanisms.
“Democracies are flawed, democracies get to vote again, democracies get to try and improve,” he said. “I can’t think of any better system than being able to have people stand up and say ‘I don’t like the decisions my leaders are making.’”
Contact Sean Chen at kxsean ‘at’ stanford.edu.