WASHINGTON – The United States announced on Saturday that it would ease its restrictions on the interaction between American officials and their counterparts in Taiwan as the Trump administration has attempted to strike a tougher line against Beijing in recent days.
Following the adoption of the One China Policy in 1979, which recognized the communist government in Beijing and overturned the recognition of the nationalist government, a complex set of guidelines was put in place to make it difficult for American officials to visit Taiwan’s officials who ruled Taiwan.
In a statement on Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States unilaterally imposed the restrictions “to appease the communist regime in Beijing.”
“I’m lifting all these self-imposed restrictions” Mr Pompeo said. “Executive agencies should void any” contact guidelines “relating to relations with Taiwan previously issued by the State Department under the agencies delegated to the Foreign Minister.”
But Evan S. Medeiros, A professor at Georgetown University and a former National Security Council employee, said the move is likely to have little practical impact. “It looks like a publicity stunt,” he said. “The administration will be over in two weeks.”
China, said Dr. Medeiros, will almost certainly react angrily at the announcement, but it is unlikely that there will be a disruption to relations with President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. before he takes office.
“The Chinese want to make sure that no one is delusional about how harmful something like this would be,” said Dr. Medeiros. “That’s the purpose of the rhetoric, but they’ll stop actually blowing up the relationship with an in-depth administration until they see Biden approach that.”
As of Sunday morning, China had not officially commented on the Foreign Ministry’s recent moves. But Beijing has said for months that it girded itself for what it called the “final act of insanity” and “staged hysteria” of the Trump administration on China-related issues.
Global Times, a state-owned Chinese tabloid, published a short report on the lifting of the restrictions on Sunday morning with the headline: “The last madness! Pompeo tweeted that the US will lift official restrictions on contact with Taiwan. “
“If this is the new starting point for US Taiwanese politics, the countdown to the survival of the Taiwanese agency will begin,” said the tabloid’s top editor Hu Xijin, who is sometimes seen as a militant public voice for the Chinese government. tweeted on Sunday.
“The possibility of using military means to resolve the Taiwan issue is also on the table,” he said, adding that fighter jets could fly over the island “anytime”.
Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, said he expected Beijing to respond vigorously to the announcement to send a signal to the new Biden government.
“China will not have patience, they will immediately denounce it,” said Professor Shen. “Biden needs to see the damage so he can urgently treat and reverse it.”
The transition of the president
In an attempt to warm relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration is ending much like it started. In December 2016, Mr. Trump accepted congratulations from the President of Taiwan, which sparked speculation that his administration could transform long-standing American politics.
Even so, they scratched their heads as they made such a significant step with so few days left. Internally, some State Department officials had registered their objections to the change, suggesting it was made without the proper review. Some diplomats have been dismayed by what they see as a flurry of last-minute diplomatic action involving decisions that could have been made much earlier in the term of office.
The moves, some outside experts said, are designed to trap Mr. Biden, forcing him to either pay domestic policy costs if he winds them up or to tarnish relations with Beijing if he doesn’t.
A Biden interim official said Mr. Biden remains committed to One China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act, which safeguards relations and arms sales between Taipei and Washington. Mr. Biden believes that support for Taiwan should be strong and non-partisan, the official said.
China regards Taiwan as its sovereign territory and Taipei has never declared independence. US politics approved that Beijing is making a claim on Taiwan, but not recognizing it.
Beijing has long reacted negatively to Taipei’s efforts to normalize or regulate relations with Washington. It has denounced Taiwan officials traveling to the United States and criticized meetings with American officials. The Beijing opposition and the complex rules of the State Department have kept most of the interactions between the United States and Taiwan at a relatively low level.
Kelly Craft, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, will travel to Taiwan this week on a three-day visit to bolster support for the self-governing island’s expanded participation in international organizations. As cross-strait relations have worsened in recent years, China has used its growing economic and political influence to destroy Taiwan’s international status, including blocking any attempt by the island to join international organizations such as the United Nations .
Last year, Taiwan sought to capitalize on its incredible success in fighting the coronavirus to campaign for its participation in the World Health Organization. The island of 23 million people has so far only had 828 cases and seven deaths from the virus, despite its proximity to the mainland.
The Trump administration has also looked into the issue, and it was highlighted by Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II during a trip to the island last August, the highest American visit to Taiwan in decades. China responded to Mr. Azar’s visit by sending two fighter planes to Taiwan. This was part of a more aggressive stance from Beijing last year, when People’s Liberation Army planes flew into the island almost every day.
China, vehemently opposed to any diplomatic gesture it sees as confirmation of Taiwan’s official status, condemned the news of Ms. Craft’s upcoming visit and vowed to retaliate.
At a regular news conference on Friday, a Chinese State Department spokeswoman Hua Chunying quoted Mr. Pompeo as saying that “some anti-China politicians” in the Trump administration “have brought their latest madness to the stage by the remaining unscrupulous used days in office to sabotage China-US relations and serve their personal political gains. ”
Mr Pompeo’s announcement was welcomed in Taiwan, which has pushed for closer ties with the United States as Beijing’s behavior has become more aggressive. Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, said on twitter that he was grateful to Mr. Pompeo for lifting restrictions that “unnecessarily restricted our commitments in recent years”.
Government officials believe the tougher line against China – and a warmer relationship with Taiwan – is likely to be part of Trump’s legacy. They have looked for ways to prevent policy changes that may be difficult for Mr Biden to reverse, to put skeptical officials towards China in roles that could continue after Mr Trump’s term ends, and to obtain resources for to relocate studying and gathering information about China.
In the past few weeks, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe has begun these resource shifts, advocating for more diverse analytical views on China.
Mr Pompeo’s move will be relatively easy for Antony J. Blinken, Mr Biden’s election as the next Secretary of State, to reverse it. And even if Mr. Blinken does not reintroduce the regulations, Mr. Biden could discourage high-level contact with Taiwanese officials.
But with Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong, bipartisan support for closer ties with Taipei is growing, if only to prevent China from taking Taiwan back by force.
Many of the restrictions on meetings with Taiwanese officials were the result of an earlier era of more hopeful relations with Beijing, said Elbridge Colby, who served in the Pentagon early on in the Trump administration.
“These are bureaucratic barriers, barnacles that have built up over time,” Colby said.
Given Beijing’s anti-democratic movements and global enforcement, strengthening ties with Taiwan is critical, Colby said.
“We need Taiwan to increase its resilience, defense capability and economic strength because there is a real possibility that China will take aggressive action against them,” he said.