On April 9, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price announced in a statement new guidelines for US government officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts, easing restrictions on contact between the US and Taiwan.
Although the statement included phrases like “our ‘one China’ policy” and “unofficial relations,” the US’ position on the “one China” policy and “unofficial relations” has shifted.
The US might claim that its policy remains unchanged, but it has changed. Although the main thrust of the guidelines is to formalize issues that used to be dealt with secretly, their purpose is to “encourage US government engagement with Taiwan that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship.”
When the the department says “deepening,” it really means “upgrading” and “promoting.”
When the US and China established diplomatic relations on Jan. 1, 1979, the department was uptight and anxious about its relationship with Taiwan.
It issued strict orders that there could be no “official” exchanges between the US and Taiwan. This meant that when US officials met with officials from Taiwan, the meetings had to be held privately in hotels, although there were some rare exceptions to this rule.
The guidelines explicitly state that meetings between the two sides can take place in official settings, thus formally changing Taiwan’s position and the definition of the US-Taiwan “unofficial relationship.”
According to the statement, the guidelines underscore that “Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and an important security and economic partner that is also a force for good in the international community.”
The US administration is rebuilding its team and forging a strategy that consists of collaborating with allies that share the US’ democratic values, a repositioning that helps Taiwan, which continues to develop foreign relations and consolidate its international position.
The administration of former US president Donald Trump declassified the “six assurances” that former US president Ronald Reagan made to Taiwan, and used the assurances as the basis for how it handled its relations with Taiwan and China.
The administration of US President Joe Biden inherited this policy, while also clearly stating that the US’ “one China” policy differs from Beijing’s “one China” principle, and includes the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques and the “six assurances.”
In its announcement, the Biden administration said: “These new guidelines liberalize guidance on contacts with Taiwan, consistent with our unofficial relations, and provide clarity throughout the executive branch on effective implementation of our ‘one China’ policy.”
The biggest shortcoming of the relationship between Taiwan and the US is the lack of official exchanges. The new guidelines formally allow unofficial relations to be maintained through “official” exchanges, which is a step forward.
This model leaves room for the US to increase cooperation with Taiwan, and promote high-level exchanges and visits.
James Wang is a senior journalist.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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