Taiwan and U.S. Calculations: Publicity Shows Sense of Distance
United Daily News, April 16, 2021
When President Joe Biden of the United States sent his personal friend former Senator Christopher Dodd to visit Taiwan, China suddenly announced live-fire drills along Chinese coast as a gesture to protest against U.S.-Taiwan exchanges. Facing mainland Chinese provocation, Taiwan and the United States could have taken the opportunity of this visit to demonstrate their partnership against the threat from Beijing. However, the opening remarks of President Tsai Ing-wen and Dodd in their meeting reveals that there is a clear distance between the two sides.
President Tsai received the American unofficial and bipartisan delegation composed of Chris Dodd, former U.S. deputy secretaries of state Richard Armitage and James Steinberg yesterday. Tsai expressed appreciation for the U.S. support of and deepening relations with Taiwan and also urged the American administration to resume the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) dialogue.
Then, Tsai criticized Beijing for sending war planes and naval vessels to carry out maneuvers in the waters and airspace surrounding Taiwan and called on like-minded countries, including the United States, to jointly safeguard the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region and deter aggression and provocation.
However, Dodd didn’t even mention China in his remarks and hadn’t taken the opportunity to urge Beijing to stop intimidating Taiwan. Only Armitage mentioned when successive American administrations supported Taiwan, some administrations didn’t mind to vex the Chinese mainland a little bit, but he assured that the Biden administration only aims to support Taiwan’s democracy.
The Biden administration sent the unofficial delegation to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). Both Dodd and Armitage didn’t forget to mention the TRA in their remarks. Dodd said that “the significance of the TRA becomes even more evident with each passing year and the American partnership with Taiwan is stronger than ever.” However, President Tsai didn’t mention anything about the 42nd anniversary of the TRA.
Both sides were happy to see that the Department of State recently issued new guidelines to encourage American government officials to interact with Taiwan counterparts. But if the communication between Taiwan and American officials are smooth and close, why the United States had to send Dodd, a civilian without any official title, to come all the way to Taiwan? It is intriguing that the message from President Biden was so important that it required an old friend in his seventies to fly to Taiwan to convey. Not to mention it is self-contradictory to use the visit of an unofficial delegation to emphasize the importance of official contact.
In fact, former American officials including Richard Armitage have been visiting Taiwan regularly. This delegation gained wider attention because it was sent by President Biden himself and Chris Dodd is a personal friend of President Biden. The publicity stunt carefully arranged by Taiwan and the United States definitely has its intended purpose.
Here are some plausible purposes: the first is that President Biden cares about the regional security in the Taiwan Strait; the second is that the United States wants to avoid miscalculation amidst of rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait by sending envoy to make sure that Taiwan’s government fully understands the thinking of the American leadership; the third is that while Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry is visiting Shanghai, the United States sent envoy to assure Taiwan that the United States won’t make concession or compromise to China in exchange for China’s cooperation. The United States struck a balance between Taiwan and mainland China while maintaining the “One China” policy by differentiating official and unofficial visits.
Nevertheless, it was the best opportunity since the beginning of the Biden administration to publicly demonstrate the close partnership between Taiwan and the United States. It is a shame that the opening remarks on the April 15 meeting revealed that each side only stick to its prepared statement on the stage. The publicity stunt turned out not to be very successful.