A US military transport plane’s visit from Okinawa to Taipei on Friday demonstrated the flexibility of Washington’s toolbox for wielding influence, as well as the potential for Taiwan-Japan relations.
The stopover, which took less than 30 minutes, was first reported as an exclusive segment on the Chinese-language TVBS News. The station and other local media reported that the plane carried a package for newly installed American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Sandra Oudkirk. The AIT and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.
No comment is the best comment in this case; the action speaks for itself. The US Air Force at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa could dispatch a plane to Taiwan at any time to deliver anything it pleases.
Comments from Beijing were hackneyed as usual, but they were primarily delivered by Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesman Colonel Wu Qian (吳謙), not the usual mouthpieces from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The brief stopover appeared to be a well-orchestrated show, considering that TV reporters were, in an unusual move, allowed entry onto the apron to film the plane’s takeoff from an excellent angle.
In August last year, then-US secretary of health and human services Alex Azar arrived in Taiwan on a US Air Force plane for a four-day trip. That happened during then-US president Donald Trump’s tenure.
Last month, US President Joe Biden sent three senators to announce a COVID-19 vaccine donation plan, and they came via a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster for a stay of only three hours.
One thing is clear: The US is employing military aircraft for missions to Taiwan as an increasingly routine practice.
It is unclear if Washington had informed Beijing of its plans to make these gestures beforehand, as the US in the 1990s reportedly provided both sides of the Taiwan Strait advance notice before it took any sensitive action.
The Biden administration has made it clear that it has many ways to interpret its unofficial relations with Taiwan under its “one China” policy.
Therefore, US National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, who has been dubbed the US’ “Asia tzar,” on July 6 could voice disapproval of Taiwanese independence on the one hand, while warning China of catastrophic consequences for any actions against Taiwan on the other.
It cannot be coincidence that Campbell’s statement came after similar remarks by Taiwan-Japan Relations Association President Chiou I-jen (邱義仁).
During a July 4 radio interview by former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Chiou said that Taiwan’s de jure independence cannot be decided by Taiwanese alone under the current international situation because fundamentally the US cannot approve the move. Chiou’s statement is upsetting for independence advocates, yet it aptly captured Taiwan’s sensitive position in international affairs.
When the Japanese government places increasing importance on peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait by inscribing the issue into several official documents, it is defending peace and stability across the Miyako Strait, an area frequented by uninvited Chinese military aircraft and coast guard ships.
The endearing remarks of Japanese State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama, who last month said Taiwan and Japan are “brothers,” also demonstrated Japan’s turn for strategic clarity toward Taiwan.
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