AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt: Short Memories and Surprises Few People Talk About

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Sunday December 05, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt spoke at the American Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Taipei, Taiwan recently. One point he brought up concerning the dealings between the USA and Taiwan was the fact that the US does not like surprises. No doubt, Burghardt was referencing the complaint that the US State Department often issued about some of the actions of Chen Shui-bian when he was president of Taiwan. This is a complaint that the Ma administration tried to exploit saying it would be more "open" in its dealings with all.

Burghardt was right; few people like surprises in a relationship particularly a political one (notwithstanding welcomed surprise gifts) and the USA could call Chen to task on some of his announcements. But of course relationships are two-way streets and if one is going to label or cast blame on one person for being the main perpetrator of surprises, perhaps we need to refresh our memories.

Certainly one of the biggest surprises the USA got was from Ma Ying-jeou when his government made a deal via Su Chi on US Beef Imports and then welshed or backed out of the deal. That one certainly hit the fan both in the USA and in Taiwan for different reasons as the Ma government apparently thought it could slip one by the people. Burghardt did in his speech talk of the beef deal, but he somehow did not label it as fitting into surprises. But let's look further.

Something I would say would fall into the category of surprises was in 1970 when Kissinger and Nixon went about making secret deals with the People's Republic of China (PRC) in order to get its help against Russia. That came as a big surprise to Taiwan, especially as it would later come out, Kissinger presumed that Taiwan could be easily sacrificed to make this deal with China.

Or let us look at Jimmy Carter's late night phone call to Chiang Ching-kuo at the end of 1978 telling Chiang in effect "surprise, we are going to switch our embassy from Taipei to Beijing and we are going to do it tommorrow."

Those are surprises that are more than surprises; they border on betrayal. Was Chen Shui-bian the only bad guy in the surprise box? Not in my books. And while I would agree that in general no one likes surprises, if people are going to start throwing stones, they had better see what kind of a house they live in.

I will add some other comments on Burghardt's talk; one in particular is how Taiwan can be the USA's ninth-largest trading partner with a two-way trade volume of more than US$46 billion last year, and yet the US position on Taiwan's status is "no position." Does that surprise you? Stay tuned.