White House Still Contemplating Proposed Name Change for Taiwan's Representative Office

China Times, September 12 ,2021


Following the second phone call between President Joe Biden of the United States and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Financial Times reported that the United States and Taiwan's top national security officials met face-to-face in Annapolis, Maryland. The Biden administration is reportedly also "seriously considering" allowing Taiwan's request to rename the "Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States" located in Washington to "Taiwan Representative Office.” It is understood that our representatives in the meeting were Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Secretary General of the National Security Council Koo Li-Hsiung. This was through a “special channel” of dialogue that has been practiced for many years between the U.S. and Taiwan.


On September 10, Financial Times, citing a number of sources familiar with internal discussions within the U.S. government, reported that Taiwan’s request to change the name of its representative office in the United States was formally put forward in March of this year and was widely supported by the National Security Council of the White House and the Asian Affairs officials of the Department of State, garnering the support of Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs. According to the report, the final decision has not yet been made, and will ultimately require an executive order signed by President Biden.


The visit by the foreign minister and secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC) to the United States for special channel dialogues is usually made public only after the trip is over. This is the first time that news of such a visit has been revealed while the two high level national security officials remain in the United States. The report did not mention the participants of the American delegation. In May 2019, the Trump administration’s national security adviser John Bolton met with the then Secretary-General David Lee of the NSC, the first meeting between officials of this level between the United States and Taiwan in 40 years.


In this regard, Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter of the Department of State did not respond positively but reiterated that American support for Taiwan is “rock-solid” and that the U.S. remains committed to maintaining relations with Taiwan, a leading democracy and a key economic and security partner. In response to the Financial Times report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said that it had no comment, except to note that it has been a long-standing goal of the government to strengthen and enhance U.S.-Taiwan relations across the board, and that the growth of U.S.-Taiwan relations has been evident to all in recent years. The government will continue to maintain close communication with the United States in a pragmatic manner and uphold the principles of mutual trust, reciprocity and mutual benefit to steadily deepen the cooperative partnership between Taiwan and the United States in various fields.


The report also quoted two American officials who were briefed on the name change as saying that the key to whether President Biden will approve or not is whether the name change is symbolic or substantive—whether it has few tangible benefits yet lead to a deterioration of relations among mainland China, the United States, and Taiwan. Liu Pengyu of the mainland Chinese Embassy responded to the report, saying that relations with Taiwan are the most important and sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations, and that China is firmly opposed to any form of official interaction between the United States and Taiwan; the United States should fully understand the intense sensitivity of the Taiwan issue: refrain from sending any wrong signals to the separatist forces of Taiwan independence; refrain from trying to break through the bottom line of the mainland; and handle Taiwan-related issues carefully and properly so as not to seriously damage U.S.-China relations and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.


In recent years, the government of Taiwan has been actively promoting the renaming of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States to the Taiwan Representative Office. At the end of last year, 78 members of the House of Representatives sent a joint letter to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling on the State Department to agree to the name change. In the Legislative Yuan, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tseng Hou-jen stated that the MOFA has been making efforts to change the name and that "the case is in progress." In addition, with the United Nations General Assembly set to begin next week in New York, Republican Representatives Scott Perry and Tom Tiffany sent a letter to Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Greenfield on September 9, calling on the Biden administration to use the U.S. "voice, vote and influence" at the UN to ensure Taiwan's status is elevated and to help Taiwan become a full member of the UN.


Douglas Paal, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), stated that the Biden administration officials may believe that promoting a token pro-Taiwan policy will help strengthen President Biden's ability to deal with Xi, but he believes it will backfire and have a negative impact on U.S.-China relations.


Su Chi, former secretary-general of the NSC, also believes that Taiwan will be the one to suffer in the end, and the United States is probably just testing the waters now.


Paal also stated that Beijing was aware of the talks, and U.S. officials were still struggling to reveal the matter. What they wanted is to face up to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. “Face is too important for China to do this.” He also mentioned that Biden and Xi had just concluded a phone conversation about the need to control bilateral relations. Yet the United States filed a name change case the next day, angering mainland China. The policy measures were not consistent.


According to Su, the purpose of Biden's call with Xi is more internally motivated than related to Mainland China—increasing domestic pressures on Mr. Biden since the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan necessitating some show of diplomacy. Indeed, the name change would also serve internal purposes. With anti-China sentiment in the United States running high, some young officials may use this to upset Beijing and appease American sentiment. Such a move is of little cost to the United States. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan has the same mentality. However, Beijing is super sensitive to the issue and will never let it happen. The United States will not nor will it be capable of paying the real price and will only engage in this kind of superficial action. 


Li Qingsi, a professor at the School of International Relations, Renmin University in mainland China and deputy director of the Center for American Studies, stated in an interview that the United States and Taiwan have been making small but frequent moves. Such developments will only serve to increase the distrust of Beijing and the Chinese people, who firmly believe that the United States cannot be trusted and that the United States is motivated only by the desire to profit from the Taiwan issue.





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