The visit is another move from the United States to enhance interactions with the island despite their lacking formal diplomatic ties since Washington switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. The US outreach to Taiwan has accentuated tensions vis-a-vis Beijing that are already inflammatory over the COVID-19 pandemic, trade, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
Craft becomes the latest in a string of Trump administration officials to travel to Taiwan. US Health Secretary Alex Azar and Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach both visited Taipei in 2020 (in August and September, respectively). Azar’s visit was the highest-ranking of the bunch, a rare trip by a Cabinet-level official to Taiwan (the UN ambassador post often does carry Cabinet rank, but the Trump administration downgraded the position before Craft took up the role in 2019).
The timing of the visit at the fag-end of president Trump’s tenure acquire new implications.Since the beginning of the his presidency, president Trump’s approach towards the island marked a sharp departure from his predecessor.Taiwan’s Tsai spoke with US President Donald J Trump on telephone ahead of his inauguration, the lone high-level contact between the two sides since 1979. The Trump administration also seems to be deepening ties with Taiwan over Chinese objections, proposing multiple arms deals and unveiling a new $250 million complex for its de facto embassy in Taipei. Beijing was alarmed by then President Donald J Trump’s phone call with President Tsai. Since then, the US Congress has passed the 2018 Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages high-level US officials to visit Taiwan, much to China’s displeasure.
US policy toward Taiwan is complex. Since both the Chinese governments on Taiwan and on mainland China held that they alone were China’s legitimate representative, US diplomatic relations with Taiwan had to be severed in 1979 when the United States recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government as China’s sole legitimate government. Although the US and Taiwan formalized existing consular relations on Sept 13, 2019, neither country maintains an official embassy in the other or appoints an ambassador. While maintaining diplomatic relations with the PRC, the United States maintains extensive but unofficial relations with Taiwan based on the framework of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA-P.L. 96-8) and shaped by three US-PRC communiques.
US’s interest regarding Taiwan is obvious. United States wants to leverage Taiwan as a counterweight to China and want to safeguard it from chinese agression.To this end,one of the defining feature of the US-Taiwan relation was the profuse arm sales. Although US-China reached agreement which entailed curb on US arms sale to Taiwan in exchange of a guarantee of Taiwan’s security, both reneged on the commitments.
The visit at a time when president Trump will leave office after a week may signify the intention of Trump to put president Biden in an awkward position with regards to Taiwan question. Historically,democratic presidents are more loyal to “one China” policy. Diplomatic analyst suggest that the Biden’s new presidency will depart from Trump’s hawkish posture toward China. Although it will not return to the dovish relationship of Obama era, however it is likely that both country will see significant breakthrough in bilateral relationship which was hitherto held hostage by Trumpian incendiary rhetoric and erratic policy disposition. However, Mr Pompeo’s decision put the incoming Biden administration in an awkward position that will complicate reconciliation efforts.
Taking into account such a promising prospect ,Chinese policy makers will be wary in not irking United States in the process of venting its outrage with regards to such a norm-defying diplomatic maneuvering. Therefore, analyst suggest, they will try to inflict punishment on Taiwan. It wouldn’t be baffling if we saw some increased military aircraft activity by Beijing as reaction.
Moreover, the announcement of this two day visit is consequential partly owing to its unique timing and partly for the parties involved. Besides, it is also a contentious one and has unnerved Beijing.This displeasure is reflected by Chinese response to this announcement. Chinese have gone to the extent likening “Taiwan question” to a red line and articulated that crossing of red line will warrant extreme measure.
Despite rhetoric and belligerence from both sides, this visit is not likely to yield much results. This visit can be regarded as an stratagem of Trump to put the Biden’s administration in an awkward situation. However, it is unlikely that Biden will be swayed by these as he has a professed predilection to improve ties with China.
The writer is a student, Department
of International Relations,
University of Dhaka