The United States government is now "taking a break" regarding Taiwan's weapons procurement plan as the arms bill has become a "political football" between the Taiwan government and the opposition parties, former chairwoman of the American Institute in Taiwan Therese Shaheen said yesterday.
The former AIT head made the remarks before giving a topical lecture titled "Why Taiwan Matters," which was organized by the Graduate Institute of American Studies, Tamkang University. Currently on a four-day visit to Taiwan, Shaheen has met with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) since her arrival on Wednesday.
Shaheen denied exchanging ideas with Chen on the arms bill, saying that she asked the president to elaborate on his New Year speech in which he mentioned a referendum on a new constitution and his new approach to cross-strait economic and trade policy, as translations tend to cause the U.S. to interpret him as adopting an "anti-liberalization" policy.
In the lecture, Shaheen said that in her opinion, the first priority for Taiwan in strengthening its defense capability should be the military communication system, which could allow Taiwan and U.S. forces to communicate and react more effectively and efficiently.
Shaheen noted that although some Taiwan people felt particularly more vulnerable and dependent than people in other countries, and with global interdependence being a key characteristic in today's world, Taiwan's importance might be surprisingly significant.
Citing a May 2005 feature report on Taiwan's high-tech industry by the U.S.-based BusinessWeek magazine, which praised the island as "the hidden center of the global economy," Shaheen said that Taiwan's economic development is key to U.S. businesses and that "if something happens to Taiwan, it would be like dropping a nuclear bomb in Saudi Arabia."
She further said that while Taiwan worries about its reliance on other countries, many people were unaware of the fact that over 50 percent of U.S. treasury bonds were in hands of the Chinese and Japanese, while Taiwan is not particularly dependent compared to other countries.
Shaheen added that although the fast growing Chinese economy has resulted in an impressive GDP growth, various social problems do exist in the new rising power, including its heavy dependence on foreign energy, the HIV problem, pollution, and an unemployed workforce of 250 million, a figure equivalent to Japan's population.
A number of opposition Kuomintang lawmakers said last December it would be acceptable for the country's annual military budget to be increased to 3 percent of GDP, and the special military budget for the long-stalled arms procurement package to be integrated into the military's regular budget plan.
"It's not enough but I think the Americans would take it," Shaheen said after the lecture.
When asked if she supports the argument that increasing bilateral trade with China would encourage the PRC regime to become more liberal, democratic, and open, Shaheen said that the situation depends on how China treats the special economic zones, but added that it is "wishful thinking" as the authorities never let go of power easily.
"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely," she added.
She however noted that free trade helps economic development in Taiwan, China and the U.S., and that only by giving up zero-sum games mentality and engaging in pragmatic cooperation could the three parties create a mutually beneficial situation.