Remember when Xi Jinping gave a heartfelt speech about how China isn’t interested in “dominating” its smaller neighbors and urged cooperation and peace around the western Pacific? Well, that didn’t last very long. Five members of Congress made a surprise trip to Taiwan yesterday, visiting both the American Institute in Taiwan (our de facto embassy) and the office of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. The purpose of the visit was reportedly to reaffirm our support of the island’s democratic government and to discuss veterans’ affairs, economic issues and trade. It should go without saying that China was less than pleased. As soon as the news about the trip broke, the Chinese embassy contacted one of the lawmakers, “instructing” her to call off the trip. The five representatives went anyway, leading to a fresh round of accusations from China’s Foreign Minister. (Associated Press)
Five U.S. lawmakers met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday in a surprise one-day visit intended to reaffirm America’s “rock-solid” support for the self-governing island that is claimed by China.
The visit came as tensions between Taiwan and China have risen to their highest level in decades. Taiwan has been self-ruled since the two sides split during a civil war in 1949, but China considers the island part of its own territory.
China was quick to condemn the trip and later announced that its military conducted air and naval readiness patrols on Friday in the direction of the Taiwan Strait, the 160-kilometer (100-mile) -wide body of water that separates China and Taiwan.
The members on the trip included four Democrats, Elissa Slotkin, Mark Takano, Sara Jacobs and Colin Allred, along with Republican Nancy Mace from Texas. Slotkin was the one who claimed that the Chinese embassy tried to pressure her into canceling the trip.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry decried the trip as a violation of the One-China Principle. Their spokesperson said, “That individual U.S. politicians wantonly challenge the one-China principle and embolden the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces has aroused the strong indignation of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” He went on to reaffirm Xi Jinping’s assertion that the reunification of China and Taiwan is an “unstoppable historic trend.”
Calling this a violation of the One-China Principle seems to be a bit of a stretch and a new position for the Chinese to take. This is the third congressional visit to the island this year and the previous two trips didn’t draw this much of a rebuke. Also, the congressional delegation wasn’t there negotiating any sort of treaty or official recognition of Taiwan. If they had been it could certainly be seen as a break from our traditional position. But they were discussing trade and economic policies. We’ve always had that sort of relationship with Taiwan.
But with all of that said, there was definitely an element of this trip that seemed like a bit of a poke in the eye to Beijing. We now live in the era of telework and virtual meetings. The conversation with Tsai could just as easily have been handled over a Zoom call. Going there in person and posing for a photo op right in the Taiwanese President’s office, while perhaps not a technical violation, certainly smacks of some sort of quasi-official recognition of the legitimacy of the island’s government. Meanwhile the Chinese continued their ongoing series of “readiness patrols” in the Taiwan Strait and fighter jet incursions near the edge of Taiwan’s airspace. The tension levels have not been significantly reduced since Xi Jinping’s soothing words from a few weeks ago.
The bipartisan nature of these trips is at least encouraging. (The last group that went to Taiwan was composed of almost all Republicans.) With so few things the two sides can seem to agree on these days, support for Taiwan and opposition to China’s aggressive tactics is at least one area where we’re seeing a bit of unity under the current administration.