Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
A high-level US delegation of former top officials will arrive in Taipei later on Sunday, putting to the test China’s restraint in its response to its democratic neighbour’s presidential election.
Taiwan on Saturday elected Lai Ching-te president, giving his Democratic Progressive party an unprecedented third term in office.
China has denounced Lai as a dangerous separatist because he has a record of association with the wing of the DPP which favours formalising Taiwan’s de facto independence.
Lai received only 40 per cent of the vote and the DPP lost control of the legislature, a result which the Chinese government said showed that the DPP did not represent mainstream public opinion.
On Sunday, China lashed out at the US, UK and Japan for congratulating Lai on his victory. The foreign affairs ministry in Being said it had lodged “solemn representations” with the US over a statement by US secretary of state Antony Blinken congratulating Lai. The ministry accused the US of sending “a serious wrong signal to the separatist forces of ‘Taiwan independence’.”
The US visit, first reported by the FT on Thursday, follows similar delegations sent by US governments to Taipei in 2000, 2008 and 2016, after polls in which the country elected a new president.
“As we have done previously following a Taiwan presidential election, the US government has asked former senior officials to travel in their private capacity to Taiwan. Former national security adviser Stephen J Hadley and former deputy secretary of state James B Steinberg will arrive in Taipei on January 14,” said the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s quasi-embassy in Taipei. AIT chair Laura Rosenberger will travel with the two.
The delegation will meet a range of leading politicians on Monday to “convey congratulations from the American people to Taiwan on its successful elections, support for Taiwan’s continued prosperity and growth, and our longstanding interest in cross-Strait peace and stability,” AIT said.
Some observers believe that the US mission at this time is risky because Beijing fiercely objects to any official contacts between Taiwan’s government and other countries and could argue it is being provoked.
Hadley and Steinberg are more senior than the members of similar post-election delegations in past years. Moreover the visit comes just as Beijing and Washington are trying to better manage their tense relationship following the recent summit between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and demands other countries refrain from recognising Taiwan as a sovereign country. Beijing frequently conducts military manoeuvres in the vicinity of Taiwan and has significantly stepped them up over the past three years, as it pushes back against what it sees as foreign forces interfering in its internal affairs and conspiring with what it calls Taiwanese separatists.
Taiwanese government officials said there was no reason for anxiety over the visit. “It is completely in line with precedent, nothing new,” said a senior national security official.
Biden, when asked by reporters to comment on Taiwan’s election result on Saturday, said: “We do not support independence,” a statement analysts interpreted as an effort to reassure Beijing.
The sentence is part of Washington’s standard language on Taiwan policy which also includes opposition to unilateral changes of the status quo from either side, the demand that cross-Strait differences must be resolved peacefully and without coercion in a manner acceptable to people on both sides.
Analysts said that apart from demonstrating support for Taiwan’s democracy, the mission’s other likely purpose was to gain a timely and accurate understanding of Lai was planning to do next.
“Due to his record as a pro-independence activist, the Biden administration is certain to try and find out how he will tread on that now,” said Yawei Liu, editor of the China Perception Monitor at the Carter Center in Washington.
But he added Lai would probably proceed carefully.
“The presidency is a position totally different from his past ones as pro-independence activist, lawmaker, premier and vice-president, and we cannot judge him by what he did before,” Liu said. “He is very subdued now because he understands that if he doesn’t do a good job, the situation will be destabilised.”
Credit: Source link