An unofficial delegation of retired US officials — former US senator Chris Dodd, and former US deputy secretaries of state James Steinberg and Richard Armitage — arrived on Wednesday for talks with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and senior Taiwanese officials. The visit came after China on Monday dispatched a record 25 military airplanes into Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone, in a significant upping of the ante.
Officials from Washington and Taipei clearly went to a lot of trouble to ensure that the delegation’s three-day visit was conducted in as low key a manner as possible. It was kept secret until just a few hours before the delegation, traveling in a small unmarked private jet, touched down at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) on Wednesday afternoon.
Despite having gone to such extremes not to offend Beijing’s delicate sensibilities, Chinese officials exploded into paroxysms of rage. At a news conference on Wednesday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) described the unofficial delegation as “official contact,” accused the US of “sending the wrong signals to Taiwanese independence forces” and called on Washington to “stop playing with fire.”
Having recast the visit as “official,” which allowed him to fabricate an imaginary transgression of diplomatic protocol, Zhao demanded that Washington sever all contact with Taipei.
“We urge the US side to … immediately stop official contact with Taiwan in any form,” Zhao said.
It was a classic bait-and-switch maneuver.
In addition to this rhetorical sleight of hand, Zhao selectively referred to the Three Joint Communiques to create the impression that the US was not keeping to its side of the bargain.
The US must rigidly adhere to the contents of the communiques, Zhao said, referring to the US’ “one China” policy and its declaration that it would end formal political relations with the Republic of China.
However, Zhao neglected to mention that there is nothing written in the communiques that prevents the US from maintaining informal ties with Taipei.
Beijing’s outrage over an unofficial visit by a former US senator and two retired state department officials who served in the administrations of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama demonstrates just how intolerant and aggressive China has become. However, before Chinese officials melt into a puddle of their own molten fury, they would do well to look at themselves in the mirror.
If they are unhappy about the blossoming relationship between Taiwan and the US, they are of course free to reinstate relations with Taipei any time they like. It was, after all, their “dear leader,” Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) who, in his infinite wisdom, hastily broke off all contact with Taiwan following Tsai’s election in 2016.
Tsai has on numerous occasions indicated that her government is ready and willing to engage in constructive dialogue with Beijing — yet Xi has stubbornly refused to pick up the telephone.
During a meeting at the Presidential Office, Tsai told the delegation that Taiwan looks forward to resuming trade talks with the US as soon as possible.
The Tsai administration has expended a significant amount of political capital in its pursuit of a free-trade deal with the US, risking a public backlash after lifting restrictions on the import of US pork.
Washington should now reciprocate and fast track a free-trade deal with Taiwan; there would be no more fitting way to signal to Xi and his wolfish “diplomats” that the US’ commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid” than by signing a free-trade deal with Taipei.
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