The growing bonhomie between Washington and Taipei has irked Beijing, which sees it as a threat to China’s territorial sovereignty and claims the self-ruled island to be an integral part of China.
Taiwan declared on Sunday, September 20, that it would not follow formal diplomatic ties with the United States for now while maintaining that there was “a lot” of room to further strengthen US-Taiwan relations.
The statement came following unprecedented visits by two senior US diplomats in the last two months.
US Health Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Taipei in August, the first trip by a top US official to Taiwan in four decades. Last week the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Keith Krach, visited Taiwan to attend a memorial service for late Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui.
The two men were the highest-ranking US officials to visit Taiwan since Washington cut formal diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979 to establish ties with Beijing.
“We are not seeking full diplomatic relations with the United States at this moment,” Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told the American media organization National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview on September 20.
“But, certainly, there’s a lot of room for us to explore how to strengthen the relations between Taiwan and the United States, and we have been advocating that Taiwan and the United States should further strengthen the economic relations, trade relations, political relations, even security relations,” he added.
Wu called Krach’s visit to Taipei “monumental” and said there had been a “tremendous advancement” in further strengthening ties between the US and Taiwan.
The growing bonhomie between Washington and Taipei has irked Beijing, which sees it as a threat to China’s territorial sovereignty and claims the self-ruled island to be an integral part of China. The Chinese administration effectively restricts nations from giving diplomatic recognition to Taiwan and prevents it from joining multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
During Krach’s visit to Taiwan, China held maritime and airspace combat drills near the Taiwan Strait to unnerve Taipei. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed on September 17 that two Chinese anti-submarine aircraft had flown into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The alleged violation of Taiwanese airspace happened a day before Krach was due to arrive in Taipei amid escalating tensions between China and the US.
Beijing made strong comments to show its anger at Krach’s visit to both Taiwan and the US.
Confirming the drills, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Ron Guoqiang said “those who play with fire will get burnt,” adding that the military exercises were a “necessary move aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Guoqiang blamed the US and Taiwan for “stepping up collusion, frequently causing disturbances” without explicitly referring to Krach’s visit.
Taiwan has regularly expressed concern about China’s increased military activity in the Taiwan Strait in recent months, which Taipei claims to be part of Beijing’s expansionist desires in the region and a strategy to intimidate them into accepting Chinese sovereignty.
“Crossing into the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait is particularly alarming.The median line of the Taiwan Strait has been there to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and China has been violating that status quo,” Wu told NPR
“Taiwan might be an easy scapegoat for the Chinese government, and therefore we understand the possibility for China to think about using military force against Taiwan, and we have been staying vigilant,” he added.
Wu claimed that Taiwan faced an amplified military threat from China, saying, “We see China has become more threatening and they seem to be more capable than before.”
Wu also defended Taiwan’s decision to host senior US officials, which according to him was the right step in the interest of US-Taiwan ties.
US-Taiwan defense association
One of the predominant aspects of US-Taiwan relations is the Taiwan Relations Act by which the US provides “defense articles and defense services” to Taiwan in such quantity that enables it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
The defense association between Washington and Taipei has become stronger over the years, especially under the Trump administration. The US and Taiwan have signed seven major arms deals worth US$13.3 billion since 2017. In August 2019, the US government approved a massive US$8 billion arms sale to Taiwan involving 66 new F-16 fighter jets.
According to a Reuters report from September 16, the US plans to sell a range of weapon systems to Taiwan including mines, cruise missiles and drones.
Wu stated on September 22 that Taiwan hoped that Washington would continue to make “defense articles” available to Taipei while also clarifying that Taiwan did not expect the US to intervene if a military altercation were to take place with China.
“Taiwan’s defense is our own risk. It’s our own responsibility, and we try to prepare ourselves for the future scenarios,” he added.
Wu also denied the allegation that the US was trying to use Taiwan as a pawn against China.
“We don’t feel that we are being used,” he said.
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