U.S. hopes Tsai will articulate vision for cross-strait ties: official

05/04/2016 10:38 PM
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Susan A. Thornton, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Susan A. Thornton, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Washington, May 3 (CNA) The United States hopes to hear President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) speak of her vision for Taiwan-China relations and her plans to further develop the U.S.-Taiwan partnership when she gives her inaugural speech on May 20, a senior U.S. State Department official said Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with CNA at the State Department, Susan A. Thornton, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in response to a question about the United States' expectations of the inaugural speech that while she would not presume to tell Tsai what to say, there were certain hopes.

"Of course, we hope that President Tsai would talk about how she sees Taiwan's development potential going forward, what kinds of positive vision she has for developing cross-strait ties, and also how to further develop the U.S.-Taiwan partnership," Thornton said in the first exclusive interview by the Taiwan media with a high-level U.S. official since Tsai was elected president in January.

Thornton, who is responsible for policy related to China and Taiwan and has a deep understanding of cross-strait affairs, said she had met Taiwan's president-elect a few times before she was elected.

Thornton said she was impressed with Tsai's commitment to pushing forward the potential of Taiwan in the world, as well as her commitment to maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait and continuing a peaceful and stable relationship with Beijing.

Looking at Tsai's public remarks and actions so far, "I think she has done a very good job of having the words and the deeds come together," Thornton said.

"Of course, she hasn't actually gotten into the office yet, so we're going to be looking forward to...her commitments and watching how she fulfills them," Thornton added.

Asked if she thinks Beijing has been behaving differently compared with 2000 when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected in Taiwan for the first time, Thornton said much has happened since 2000 and cross-strait exchanges are now at a record high.

She said she believes that both Taiwan and China have learned a lot about each other over that period, and if the two sides can continue to treat each other with dignity and respect, "I think that that would go a long way toward furthering this kind of positive engagement that we all want to see."

Asked about the perceived stalemate between Beijing and Tsai, Thornton said it was "premature" to call it a stalemate.

"I don't actually see a stalemate," Thornton said. "I think there has been a very good political basis laid for the continuation of cross-strait exchanges, as President-elect Tsai also has mentioned," she said.

On the issue of Taiwan not yet receiving an invitation to attend this year's World Health Assembly (WHA), Thornton said the U.S. is "working on that."

"I don't have a reason to expect that it will be different from previous years yet, but we'll have to see," she said.

The U.S. has always focused on making sure that Taiwan can make meaningful contributions to global challenges with dignity and respect, Thornton said.

"And so when we look at what we're trying to advocate for, we want to maximize the impact Taiwan can have on the global stage, based on its comparative capabilities and advantages, not just on symbolic appearances or gestures," she said.

From that perspective, Thornton said, the U.S. has made significant headway in helping to expand not only Taiwan's presence in formal international organizations, but its global leadership in areas such as health and women's empowerment in the economic sphere.

She said it is the U.S.' policy to support Taiwan's meaningful participation in organizations that require statehood, "but it is a challenge and we are going to continue to work on that."

Taiwan has attended the WHA as an observer every year since 2009, the year after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Kuomintang (KMT) was inaugurated.

This year, however, there have been concerns that Beijing might try to block the invitation, as the Taiwan government is about to change from the China-friendly KMT to the pro-independence DPP in the May 20 transfer of power.

Meanwhile, regarding the spew of disputes in the South China Sea, Thornton said the U.S.' stance on the issue is clear.

"We do not take a position on the various competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea, but we do insist that countries uphold international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, when they're looking to resolve their claims or assert their claims," she said.

"We don't wish to see anybody do anything in the South China Sea that would have the effect or even the appearance of escalating tensions," she said.

Thornton said the U.S. also thinks it is important for all countries in the region to clarify their claims.

"Because when there are claims that are unclear, it can give rise to confusion, miscalculation, and even conflict, so we certainly advocate clarification of claims so that people can tell what's disputed and what's not," she said.

(By Rita Cheng and Christie Chen)ENDITEM/pc

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