US Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland, who arrived on Sunday with a delegation led by Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr, is the first US ambassador to visit Taiwan in more than 40 years, signaling that Washington is becoming more active in engaging Taipei, academics said on Sunday.
The delegation is visiting Taiwan to promote tourism to Palau through a “travel bubble,” which would ease COVID-19 restrictions on travel between the two countries.
During a short address after the delegation’s arrival at the airport, Whipps said Hennessey-Niland, who has served as US ambassador to Palau since March last year, was among the delegation.
The visit marks the first time a US ambassador has publicly visited Taiwan since Washington cut ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979, said Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a senior analyst at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
The visit shows that the US no longer treats interaction between its ambassadors and Taiwan as taboo, said Lin Ting-hui (林廷輝), deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Society of International Law.
It also demonstrates that the US is becoming more active in its engagement with Taiwan, he added.
He foresees more cooperation among Taiwan, the US and Palau, as the three countries work together on security and defense, he said.
Taiwan has maritime cooperation agreements with Pacific allies Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands, while Palau and the US have cooperated on defense, and Taiwan and the US on Thursday last week signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a coast guard working group, Lin said.
Taiwan could work with its allies and the US to conduct security exercises in the Pacific or even join the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, a biennial defense exercise organized every two years by the US, he said.
Hennessey-Niland’s visit demonstrates that Taiwan-US cooperation has become multilateral, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said yesterday.
This kind of multilateralism can also be seen in visits that US ambassadors to the Netherlands and Eswatini have made to their Taiwanese counterparts, which is a positive development, he added.
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