- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2014

A delegation of high-level Taiwanese diplomats said Thursday that many of their own people oppose a major trade deal with mainland China, and also made a rare public acknowledgment of rising domestic resistance to U.S. pressure to expand a radar system for detecting long-range missile threats from Beijing.

The diplomats suggested that U.S. missile defense interests might be more palatable to the Taiwanese public if Washington were more willing to bolster more traditional aspects of Taiwan’s national defense, such as an expanded sale of American-made fighter jets and submarines.

At the same time, the officials, meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, criticized China’s record on human rights and individual freedoms. Twenty-five years after the bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square, they said Beijing should look to Taiwan as a model for democratic and social change.

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“Like President Bush once said, ‘Taiwan is the beacon of democracy in the region,’” said Dale Wen-Chieh Jieh, who heads the department of policy planning within the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Jieh said that despite an unprecedented pursuit of closer relations between Taiwan and China over the past five years, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has “made a statement every year in support of democracy in mainland China.”

“Democracy is a founding value of Taiwan and, of course, we would like to see this political system or political philosophy really enter into mainland China,” he said. “Even though we want to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait, our stance on democratic values will not be compromised.”

Tense relations between Taiwan and China have eased in recent years, and Mr. Ma has called for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but Taiwan’s place in the Obama administration’s strategic calculus has become a subject of debate.

U.S. officials promoting the Obama administration’s Asia “pivot” rarely mention Taiwan. Instead, they appear more focused on enhancing relations with other allies on China’s periphery, such as South Korea and Japan, while pursuing ties with former adversaries such as Vietnam.

Another Taiwanese official, who joined Mr. Jieh at The Times, suggested that the 35th anniversary in April of the Taiwan Relations Act, long the cornerstone of U.S.-Taiwanese ties, was bittersweet.

“We have been very appreciative of the U.S. continued support of Taiwan’s security and economic survival, but, I have to say that it’s my personal experience in Washington that Taiwan, the name, has been less-frequently mentioned at important meetings,” said Kwei-Bo Huang, secretary general of Taiwan’s Association of Foreign Relations, a government-backed outfit created last year to help promote ties between the island and its partners around the world.

Taiwan is still a very vital place in East Asia and in the [Obama administration‘s] rebalancing strategy,” said Mr. Huang, “even if it hasn’t been included, officially, in that big project.

Taiwan is no less than Japan and South Korea as an important U.S. ally,” he said.

Long-range missile defense

The Taiwanese officials raised concern about U.S. pressure to expand a missile defense system on the island that could detect long-range missile threats from China.

Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, introduced language to pave the way for such a system in the committee’s fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill.

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