The State Department’s new guidelines to encourage diplomatic engagement with Taiwan are seen by some China affairs analysts as a way to encourage and promote closer ties between the United States and Taiwan, but will not fundamentally change Washington’s overall position on China’s territorial claims to Taiwan.
The State Department announced the new measures on April 9 to “encourage U.S. government engagement with Taiwan, reflecting our deepening unofficial relationship.
“Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and a force for good in the world,” State Department spokesman John Price tweeted, announcing new guidelines for interactions with Taiwan.
“Taiwan is a remarkable democracy, a global technology leader and a trusted business partner,” U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman tweeted after meeting with Taiwan’s representative in Brazil Chang chung – che.
The U.S. has political and economic ties with Taiwan dating back decades, but at a time of growing tensions with China, analysts are seeing renewed interest in fortifying ties with the island of democracy.
“I think the multiple tweets from the State Department are part of the Biden administration’s policy of demonstrating firm support for Taiwan,” said Bonnie Glaser, who will soon become director of the German Marshall Fund’s Asia program.
Gerrit van der Wees, an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said he sees this as part of a “whole-of-government approach” to emphasize and highlight the United States’ encouragement of closer engagement with Taiwan at all levels.
“The threat to a free and democratic Taiwan from an aggressive and belligerent China makes it necessary for the United States (and other allies) to be able to communicate with a freely elected government in Taiwan at a higher level as formally as possible under the current structure,” Wedgley said.
For years, Washington has maintained a “one-China policy” to guide its relations with Taiwan. This is in contrast to Beijing’s “One China Principle. Under the “One China Policy,” the United States “recognizes” but has never supported the Communist Party’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan.
Washington has long maintained that the differences between China and Taiwan should be resolved peacefully in accordance with the wishes of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
But concerns about Taiwan are growing, especially in the wake of Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong. These new measures may lead U.S. officials to engage more actively with their Taiwanese counterparts on social media.
Benjamin Friedman, policy director of the Washington think tank Defense Priorities, said the new measures are “an intentional signal or indication to China that their efforts to intimidate Taiwan will only bring the U.S. closer to Taiwan,” he said.
“This actually started at the end of the Trump administration with (former Secretary of State) Pompeo (lifting self-imposed restrictions), and this little opening for U.S. diplomats to engage with lower-level officials or at least not the highest-level officials in Taiwan’s foreign ministry was somewhat surprisingly sustained in the Biden administration,” Friedman said. Friedman said.
This new guideline for engagement with Taiwan comes at a time when a major bill to counter China’s expanding global influence has been introduced in the U.S. Congress. The proposed cross-party Strategic Competition Act of 2021 calls for not restricting interactions between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts .
This bill says, “Just as the U.S. government engages with other foreign governments, the State Department and other U.S. government agencies should engage with the democratically elected government of Taiwan on the same basis and using the same names and protocols.” The bill adds that the bill should not be interpreted as “implying the restoration of diplomatic relations (with Taiwan).”
Beijing officials countered that the bills interfere with China’s internal affairs.
“The U.S. lawmakers concerned should look at China and Sino-U.S. relations objectively and rationally, abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-U.S. joint communiqués, abandon the Cold War zero-sum game mentality and stop pushing forward consideration of negative bills that interfere with China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
In December 2020, the Taiwan Reassurance Act, enacted as U.S. public law, required the State Department to reassess the self-imposed restrictions on U.S. relations with Taiwan.
In January, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an end to the decades-long self-imposed restrictions on U.S.-Taiwan relations. This policy change said that contacts between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts would be handled by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). This is a nonprofit organization responsible for implementing U.S. policy toward Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
Last week’s new guidelines reaffirm the State Department’s oversight of travel to Taiwan by senior U.S. officials, with AIT playing a supporting role.