9 January 2021   Leave a comment

The Trump Administration continues to take actions designed to hamstring the incoming Biden Administration. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, issued a directive entitled “Lifting Self-Imposed Restrictions on the U.S.-Taiwan Relationship“. It reads:

“Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and reliable partner of the United States, and yet for several decades the State Department has created complex internal restrictions to regulate our diplomats, servicemembers, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts. The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing. No more.

“Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions.  Executive branch agencies should consider all ‘contact guidelines’ regarding relations with Taiwan previously issued by the Department of State under authorities delegated to the Secretary of State to be null and void.

“Additionally, any and all sections of the Foreign Affairs Manual or Foreign Affairs Handbook that convey authorities or otherwise purport to regulate executive branch engagement with Taiwan via any entity other than the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) are also hereby voided. The executive branch‘s relations with Taiwan are to be handled by the non-profit AIT, as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act.”

“The United States government maintains relationships with unofficial partners around the world, and Taiwan is no exception. Our two democracies share common values of individual freedom, the rule of law, and a respect for human dignity. Today’s statement recognizes that the U.S.-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy.”

The American Institute in Taiwan was created in 1979 as an informal US embassy in Taiwan. Such a move was necessary after the US recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole representative of the Chinese people, ending US recognition of Taiwan as the sole representative of the Chinese state in 1949 after the Communist takeover of power. After the revolution in China, the Chinese government, led by the political party known as the Kuomintang. From 1949 to 1972, the US and other countries recognized Taiwan as a way of delegitimizing the Communist rule over China. That futile fiction ended with President Nixon’s visit to China and the issuance of the Shanghai Communique by which the US ended its recognition of Taiwan in return for a promise by Communist China that it would not pursue reunification with the island by military means.

The communique was designed to buy time for both sides and it did not resolve the underlying tension concerning US and Taiwanese interests in avoiding Communist rule in the island. The situation has always been ambiguous, leading to conflicts over what constituted US support for Taiwan and the nature of Taiwan’s ultimate relationship to Beijing. The Trump Administration has consistently moved toward treating Taiwan as more autonomous in ways that have angered the Chinese government, including a bricks and mortar building for the American Institute in Taiwan in 2018. For the Chinese, that building represented too much of an official embassy. Pompeo’s recent action angered Beijing and Xinhua reports:

“A Chinese government spokesperson on Thursday voiced firm opposition to any form of official ties between the United States and China’s Taiwan region.

“Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, made the statement when asked about U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would visit Taiwan.

“Zhu voiced opposition to these ‘extremely wrong actions,’ saying they are violations of the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiques.

“The Democratic Progressive Party authority’s stubborn reliance on the United States to seek ‘Taiwan independence’ leads nowhere and will backfire, Zhu said”

Additionally, the Trump Administration is sending a high-ranking official to Taiwan: “The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, will visit Taiwan next week for meetings with senior Taiwanese leaders, Taiwan’s government and the U.S. mission to the U.N. said, prompting China to warn they were playing with fire.” The Chinese government has angrily responded to the decision:

“China on Thursday warned the United States would pay a ‘heavy price’ if its United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft made good on plans to travel to Taiwan next week.

“Democratic and self-ruled Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which views the island as its own territory and has vowed to seize it one day, by force if necessary.

“Beijing opposes any diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and has pushed to keep it isolated on the world stage.

“Outgoing US President Donald Trump has sent multiple senior officials to Taipei over the last year as he clashed with China on a host of issues such as trade, security and human rights.

“Craft’s January 13-15 visit will come just a week before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden and creates a fresh diplomatic headache for the incoming administration.

“’The United States will pay a heavy price for its wrong action,’ a statement from the Chinese mission to the UN said in response to the planned trip next week by Craft.

“’China strongly urges the United States to stop its crazy provocation, stop creating new difficulties for China-US relations and the two countries’ cooperation in the United Nations, and stop going further on the wrong path.’”

I strongly suspect that the incoming Biden Administration is opening informal channels (he’s not President yet) to the Chinese indicating that the recent Trump decisions will be overturned. Such last-minute actions are quite typical of US administrations that are being succeeded by administrations from the opposing party. But overturning them is a burdensome bureaucratic task and the changes will be slow in coming. I suspect that the Chinese will be sympathetic to Biden, but their patience on Taiwan has been solely taxed since 1972. Let us hope that Mr. Trump does not attempt any further provocations such as naval actions in the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea which would box the Chinese into a very dangerous corner.

Posted January 9, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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