Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday, 10 January 2021


U.S. Eases Restrictions on Contact With Taiwan in Jab at China

Updated on 
  • Move may inflame tensions between U.S., Taiwan & China
  • U.S. diplomat says ‘no more’ appeasement of Communist regime

The U.S. will remove decades-old, self-imposed restrictions on how its diplomats and other officials interact with Taiwan, a move that may inflame tensions with Beijing just a little over a week before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

“For several decades the State Department has created complex internal restrictions to regulate our diplomats, service members, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement Saturday in Washington. “No more.”

The announcement was the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to reshape the U.S. relationship with Taiwan. Donald Trump accepted a telephone call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen weeks before taking office in January 2017, has said his support for the “One China” policy was contingent on getting better trade deals, announced arms sales, and sent senior officials to Taipei.

“While the implications of the announcement are not yet clear, it seems the intent is to nudge unofficial U.S.-Taiwan relations toward something more akin to official ties,” said Maggie Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall Law School who has written extensively on Taiwan and China.

China opposes meetings between U.S. and Taiwanese officials and has made no secret of its displeasure at improving ties between Washington and Taipei. The Chinese foreign ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment on the latest announcement.

Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu said in a tweet that he was grateful to Pompeo for “lifting restrictions unnecessarily limiting our engagements.”

“The closer partnership between Taiwan and the U.S. is firmly based on our shared values, common interests and unshakeable belief in freedom and democracy,” the minister said.

Future Contacts

Going forward, executive branch agencies should consider all “contact guidelines” concerning relations with Taiwan previously issued by the State Department to be null and void, Pompeo said.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is expected to visit Taiwan this week. That will be the first such visit since Taiwan was excluded from the UN in 1971, and she will meet with senior Taiwanese counterparts.

China’s foreign ministry had earlier called Craft’s visit “a breach of the One China principle” and accused Pompeo of “staging a final show of madness” to “sabotage China-U.S. relations.”

The announcement by Pompeo is one of a number the administration has launched or strengthened in the final days of its term, including an initiative to punish companies with close ties to the Chinese military.

Bedrock Policy

“Best case, the Biden Administration sees this as a blank slate and starts an internal process to develop what the ideal U.S.-Taiwan engagement structure and process looks like, consistent with the unofficial relationship, shared democratic values, and the benefits the bilateral relationship brings,” said Drew Thompson, formerly a U.S. Department of Defense official responsible for Taiwan policy.

Beijing’s “One China” principle states that Taiwan and China are part of the same China. While the U.S. recognizes that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government of China, it only acknowledges that the PRC claims Taiwan is a part of China.

Taiwan’s government views the island as a de-facto independent, sovereign nation.

Hong Kong Statement

In another action against China, Pompeo on Saturday issued a joint statement with the foreign ministers of the U.K., Canada and Australia in expressing “serious concern” about the arrest of 55 activists and politicians in Hong Kong last week.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law is a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and undermines the “one country, two systems” framework, according to the statement. The legislation “has curtailed the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. It is clear that the National Security Law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views,” the governments said.

Hong Kong’s government later rejected that criticism. China has repeatedly said no other nations have the right to interfere in its internal affairs, including in Hong Kong.

— With assistance by Colum Murphy, and Chris Horton

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