A moment of silence for Bo Yang, the famed mainlander writer, critic, and gadfly jailed under the KMT, who died yesterday at the age of 88, of lung disease. If you haven’t laughed your way through his satirical collection of writing on Chinese culture called The Ugly Chinaman, you should….(Wiki on Bo Yang)

In case you were nursing any doubts, Steve Young, director of AIT, told the American Chamber of Commerce that the US would continue to sell weapons to Taiwan:

Washington will continue to back Taiwan militarily while it pushes for peace talks with China, the de facto US envoy here assured incoming president Ma Ying-jeou Tuesday.

Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said the United States would continue to supply weapons to Taipei.

“We also expect our traditional close security cooperation to continue, as we are convinced American support for Taiwan’s defence gives its democratic leaders the confidence to explore closer ties with its big neighbour without fear of pressure or coercion,” he said in an address to the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) here.

Taiwan has been governed separately since the end of a 1949 civil war, but Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade should the island declare formal independence, and has targeted it with more than 1,000 ballistic missiles.

Washington has been the island’s leading arms supplier, despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

But Taipei-Washington ties were frustrated by cross-strait tensions under the outgoing pro-independence government and Ma, of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, has vowed to improve relations.

The formulaic descriptions here fail to assign any role in declining Taipei-Washington relations to the Washington side of the equation — as if the Bush Administration’s obsession with our disastrous invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with US impatience with Taiwan. Ma also spoke at the AIT affair, reiterating his intent to flood the island with Chinese tourists (speaking of which, Jon Adams has a great article in IHT on Taiwanese reactions to the tourists), and have daily charter flights by the year’s end. Young praised Ma for sending Veep-elect Vincent Siew to China to meet with officials there at the Boao Forum.

Young was also allowed to ride in a local armored car and as the US witnessed Taiwan’s military exercises, including a plan to evacuate US and Japanese officials in case of an attack:

This year marks the first time that U.S. officials have attended the exercises amid years of requests from Washington to Taipei to observe them, the press release said.

”For the sake of mutual benefit and strengthening bilateral exchanges…the council…agreed to limited participation by the U.S. in this year’s exercises,” the release said.

However, U.S. officials were not allowed to attend a practice ”crisis response meeting” by top Taiwanese leaders, including President Chen Shui-bian, it added.

The United States and Japan, although not diplomatic allies of Taiwan, do include protecting the self-ruled island as part of their shared strategic goals. Tuesday’s participation by U.S. officials, reports said, reveal Taiwan’s plan to protect both AIT and Japanese officials if China were to invade.

Asked for comment Thursday, Ryoji Takagaki, a spokesman for Japan’s de facto embassy in Taiwan, the Interchange Association, said he had ”not heard of such a plan.”

Washington and Tokyo do not station military personnel in Taipei to protect their missions given the lack of official ties with the island.

Young’s speech explicitly linked US support for Taiwan via flows of arms to President Ma’s ability to forge closer links with China:

“We are convinced American support for Taiwan’s defense gives its democratic leaders the confidence to explore closer ties with its big neighbor without fear of pressure or coercion,” Young said.

Perhaps that’s true, but somehow I think irrespective of Taiwan’s military position vis-a-vis China, incoming President Ma would still have the confidence to be exploring ways to put the island into Beijing’s orbit.