July 02, 2009
AIT Official Text #: OT-0914E
Premier Liu, Speaker Wang, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!
Barbara and I warmly welcome you, our friends from Taiwan, the United States, and elsewhere, to our celebration of 233 years of American nationhood.
I am especially proud to be an American on this day, and I am pleased to be among so many who – American or not – share the values that America has embraced over the span of its existence. My country, throughout its ups and downs, has provided a consistent example to the world of an enduring commitment to democracy. That example has found resonance in many parts of the world, including here on Taiwan. So, if you admire the ideals held by America’s founding fathers – that tyranny must be opposed resolutely, that the people have the right to choose their own leaders, that society must be governed by just laws – then regardless of the passport you may carry, you have something important to celebrate today.
Building a democratic society is not a simple job, but this year’s bicentenary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, perhaps America’s greatest leader, provides us an opportunity to reflect on the benefits that come from sustained commitment to democratic ideals.
Along with President Ma, I had an opportunity to speak at greater length earlier this year before an audience of Lincoln lovers from Taiwan on the legacy of America’s 16th President. That is but one of the many marvelous moments that I will look back on as I prepare to conclude my tenure in Taiwan as Director of AIT.
I think of the many wonderful individuals in government, business, politics, and society I have had the privilege to get to know, or with whom I have renewed my acquaintance from previous times in Taiwan. Many of you have honored us with your presence here today. I think of Taiwan’s further maturation as a democracy, best exemplified by the free and fair elections held last year, the verdict of which was calmly accepted by all major political forces. Correspondingly, I recall the impressively intense interest which my friends from Taiwan showed during America’s own historic election last November.
I think of the continued strength of relations between the people of Taiwan and the United States, a strength symbolized by the future 21st century office site we dedicated in Neihu last week. Our strong ties need not be in competition with recently warming links between Taiwan and China, but can rather complement that process by providing this island with the confidence to explore better relations with the mainland. Since U.S.-Taiwan friendship is based not only on a rich history of broad interaction, but more and more on our shared values, its future will be grounded on the most enduring of foundations.
On a very personal note, I’d like to say a few words about my wonderful wife of 26 years, Barbara Finamore, and my three children, two of whom are with us today. As many of you know, Barbara is an accomplished environmentalist working at the American NGO Natural Resources Defense Council. She has built up a prominent China office which is working collaboratively to address that country’s major environmental problems. But throughout my last three postings in Taipei, Barbara has been a pillar of support to me and the AIT community. Thank you, Barbara, for that support, without which nothing I have accomplished here would have been possible.
Rebecca and Patrick, also here on the stage with me, have learned so much during our tours here, earlier studying at TAS, more recently returning for summer and holidays, working at AIT and improving their Chinese. Our oldest son studied here twice, and is now a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. I’m very proud of all of them.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Bob Wang, my deputy at AIT these past three years, for his selfless service and unstinting support of America’s mission here. I am greatly beholden to him for his wise counsel and steady friendship. Bob will become Acting Director when I leave here tomorrow, until my successor Bill Stanton arrives later this summer.
As most of you know, Bill was formally announced in Washington last night. A friend and colleague for twenty years, I know Bill to be an experienced diplomat and seasoned China hand who will do a fantastic job when he assumes his responsibilities here next month. Like me, he will benefit greatly from your friendship and counsel over the next three years. So I know I leave AIT in very capable hands.
Taiwan has been an important part of my life since 1963, and it has become a formative experience for my family too over the years. So it is indeed a bittersweet moment preparing to depart tomorrow from an island that given so much to all of us. We will miss this place and certainly hope to visit again in the future.
I am reminded that in the late 1990’s, then President Lee Teng-hui famously said “it doesn’t matter where you come from — so long as you love Taiwan, you are a ‘New Taiwan person.'” So by that definition, I consider myself a “New Taiwan man!”
The Portuguese had it right when they named the island “Formosa,” or “the beautiful island.” My family and I will miss the natural beauty of your mountains and your shoreline. But more than anything else we will miss your people and their warm hospitality, civility, and kindness. I really don’t think there is a better place in the world to be an American visitor. You make us feel so welcome! Farewell, friends!
I would now like to propose a toast to the wonderful and enduring ties between America and Taiwan as we celebrate my country’s birthday. Long may they prosper!