US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday announced that the US Department of State is voiding long-standing restrictions on how US diplomats and others have contact with their counterparts in Taiwan, just a little over a week before US president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.
Pompeo instructed executive branch agencies to consider “all ‘contact guidelines’ regarding relations with Taiwan ... to be null and void.”
“For several decades the State Department has created complex internal restrictions to regulate our diplomats, service members, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing. No more,” he said.
“Our two democracies share common values of individual freedom, the rule of law, and a respect for human dignity,” Pompeo said. “Today’s statement recognizes that the US-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy.”
The announcement was the latest in a series of moves by US President Donald Trump’s administration to reshape the US’ relationship with Taiwan.
“While the implications of the announcement are not yet clear, it seems the intent is to nudge unofficial US-Taiwan relations toward something more akin to official ties,” said Maggie Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey, who has written extensively on Taiwan and China.
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft is expected to visit Taipei this week, in the first such visit since Taiwan was excluded from the UN in 1971.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had earlier called Craft’s planned visit “a breach of the ‘one China’ principle” and accused Pompeo of “staging a final show of madness” to “sabotage China-US relations.”
Saturday’s announcement by Pompeo is one of a number the administration has launched or strengthened in the final days of its term, including an initiative to punish companies with close ties to the Chinese military.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell yesterday told the Financial Times that the decision was not rushed ahead of Biden’s inauguration, but was the result of a lengthy review of the Taiwan-US relationship.
“We have been trying to rectify the overall US-China relationship and this is one more step in that direction,” Stilwell said, urging the Biden administration to continue the policy direction.
“Best case, the Biden administration sees this as a blank slate, and starts an internal process to develop what the ideal US-Taiwan engagement structure and process looks like, consistent with the unofficial relationship, shared democratic values, and the benefits the bilateral relationship brings,” said Drew Thompson, a former US Department of Defense official responsible for Taiwan policy.
An official in Biden’s transition team on Saturday said that Biden believes US support for Taiwan must remain “strong, principled and bipartisan,” and that he would work to ensure that.
Biden would support “a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan,” the official said.
The president-elect is committed to the Taiwan Relations Act, which serves as a guide for US interaction with Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties, they added.
Additional reporting by Lu Yi-hsuan and CNA
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