Following reports that Washington is to retain the previous US administration’s directives on dealings with Taiwan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) yesterday said that existing US contact guidelines are still in place, as it is unclear how to proceed without them, but many had already been broken and future changes would be “very significant.”
Shortly before leaving office on Jan. 9, then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced the annulment of all self-imposed guidelines regarding exchanges with Taiwan, paving the way for high-level visits and other official interactions.
However, since US President Joe Biden entered the White House, the status of the guidelines has been unclear.
When asked about their status during a report to the Legislative Yuan, Wu said that “adjustments are still being made.”
Ever since the guidelines were changed in 2015 for “various reasons,” reportedly in response to Taiwanese representatives raising the national flag at Twin Oaks Estate in Washington, the US has adopted a policy of making practical changes whenever needed, Wu said.
In this way, “many [guidelines] have already been broken,” he said.
As for whether Taiwan’s president, vice president or other high-ranking officials could visit Washington, Wu said that such visits are not covered by the guidelines.
However, this does not mean it would be impossible, he said, adding that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would strive to arrange reciprocal visits if the need arises.
The US most recently granted permission for officials to attend events with Taiwanese representatives abroad, and to meet at foreign embassies or official residences, he said.
This is already a change from past practice that would likely make it into the new guidelines, Wu added.
“This is already a huge step,” he said. “Two years ago, for us to meet with a US ambassador in another country would have been extraordinarily difficult.”
While there have been such meetings in the past, they were uncommon until these past few months, nor were they so public, Department of North American Affairs Director-General Douglas Hsu (徐佑典) said, adding that Washington is now encouraging its diplomats to interact with their Taiwanese counterparts.
As for whether the meetings were simple formalities or involved substantive dialogue, Wu said that a few were courtesy visits, but in foreign affairs, formalities are sometimes very important.
In most of the meetings the representatives discussed areas of cooperation in their host nations, while some talked about international participation and regional issues, he added.
Communication with Washington would proceed with the knowledge that the US Department of State is evaluating how to adjust its guidelines, Wu said.
If the rules are eliminated, some within the department fear that all relations would refer back to the Taiwan Relations Act, and all bilateral interactions must be tackled through the Taiwan Council for US Affairs and the American Institute in Taiwan, making matters more confusing, he said.
“Without direct rules, the department would not know what to do,” Wu said, but added that the changes made by Biden’s administration would be significant.
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