Therese Shaheen, former director of our officially unofficial representative body in Taiwan, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), is the subject of an article in Mercury News….

n the world’s diplomatic stage, politically isolated Taiwan has scant influence. But in the global tech economy, the island of 23 million is a heavyweight, said former senior State Department representative to Taiwan Therese Shaheen.

“You look at the back of laptops and they have China, Malaysia, Mexico written on them - whoever puts in the last screw,” Shaheen said in an interview. But Taiwanese engineers and companies provide the high-level design and production technology to ensure Best Buy shelves are full of the latest gadgets.

The blunt-speaking former diplomat is scheduled to speak tonight at the annual dinner of the Bay Area Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce in Palo Alto.

From 2002 to 2004, Shaheen, who has extensive international business experience, was chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. The AIT represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in absence of a U.S. embassy. The United States, like most other countries, does not officially recognize Taiwan.

She has become something of a hero in Taiwan after being fired by the Bush administration for publicly congratulating the island on a successful presidential election. Her congratulations drew harsh complaints from Beijing, which regards the island as part of China.


Shaheen has been supportive of Taiwan. She gives an account of her removal:

Likewise, her post was a diplomatic minefield. Shaheen said she was forced to resign after she complimented Taiwan on a successful presidential election in 2004, and congratulated Chen and Vice President Annette Lu on their re-election. She said the public statement had been thoroughly vetted and approved by the Bush administration. But a TV crew that interviewed her sent the video to China.

“By midnight, it was all over China,” Shaheen recalled, adding that high-level Chinese authorities immediately called the U.S. ambassador in Beijing. “It was like in the Middle Ages, and I had blasphemed. They were screaming and pulling their hair out. I got fired.”

Shaheen now heads U.S. Asia International, a consulting firm that specializes in mergers and acquisitions and entering overseas markets. She said the next president of Taiwan - either the Democratic Progressive Party’s Frank Hsieh or the Kuomintang’s Ma Ying-jeou - could lessen tensions between China and Taiwan. There could, for instance, be direct flights between the two. At present, business executives must first fly to Hong Kong or Macao before going to mainland China.


The last paragraph is the CW on the post-election era — everyone says the same thing. “Tensions” will no doubt fall in the initial stages of a Hsieh presidency, since China chooses whether things will be “tense” and may want to give the appearance that it is engaging in statesmanlike forbearance. But at some point Hsieh will be forced to draw lines around Taiwan’s sovereignty, and then he will become a “radical” and “tensions” will rise. And as always, tensions are a thing that occurs largely in mediaspace, in the real world, the busiest air route on earth is between a city in China and city in Taiwan, and Taiwanese investors have put $200 billion into China.