U.S. President Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of State Antony Blinken has welcomed moves by the Trump administration to remove curbs on official contacts with the democratic island of Taiwan, although analysts said it remains to be seen whether the new administration will continue to move in the direction of greater recognition for the Taiwanese government.
Blinken said he was in favor of greater engagement with Taiwan, and referred to a move by outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to relax restrictions on official dealings with Taipei.
“I want to see that process through to conclusion if it hasn’t been completed, to make sure that we’re acting pursuant to the mandate in the (Taiwan Assurance) act that looks at creating more space for contacts,” Blinken said in comments reported by Reuters.
Pompeo announced on Jan. 9 that the U.S. was lifting curbs that had been in place since Washington cut ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979, saying Washington would no longer “appease” Beijing.
Blinken has previously met with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen while she was running for office the first time around, during his tenure as deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration.
He said the Biden administration would maintain the United States’ commitment to ensure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself against aggression.
“That is a commitment that will absolutely endure in the Biden administration. We will make sure that Taiwan has the ability to do that,” Blinken said.
“The commitment to Taiwan is something that we hold to very strongly,” he said in comments reported by Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA).
U.S. secretary of defense nominee Lloyd J. Austin struck a similar note when asked what he would do if China decided to invade Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.
“Our efforts will be to ensure we do everything to make sure that China does not make that decision,” CNA quoted Austin as saying during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 19.
Meanwhile, Blinken, asked by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham if the CCP would have to pay a heavy price for any attempt to annex Taiwan, replied: “That would be a serious mistake.”
He said the Trump administration had been right to take a tougher stance against Beijing, saying that China under the CCP had clear ambitions to global political leadership, and to export its authoritarian model of government around the world.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed Blinken’s comments.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sincerely thanks Antony Blinken, nominee for Secretary of State, for publicly expressing firm support for Taiwan,” ministerial spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.
“Our government will continue to build on these sound foundations in future, to deepen the close friendship and partnership between Taiwan and the United States,” she said.
Mainstream support on China
Ding Shu-Fan, honorary professor at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said getting tougher on China seems to have become a mainstream view in American politics, with bipartisan support for Tsai’s insistence on standing up to China.
“In the latter part of the Obama administration, Obama wrote in his memoir that he wanted to change policy to get tougher on China, but that it was too late,” Ding said.
“Obama wanted to confront them didn’t dare to, while Trump facilitated the Democratic Party’s more confrontational stance,” Ding said. “He helped the Democratic Party a great deal.”
He said Blinken appeared to want to send encouraging messages to Taiwan with his recent comments.
But Kwei-Bo Huang, deputy secretary general of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), said that while the Biden administration was unlikely to distance itself from Taiwan compared with the Trump administration, there may be no further developments towards greater recognition for the island, which has been excluded from membership in international organizations at Beijing’s insistence for decades.
“We will have to see what happens,” Huang said. “My guess is that we will see more of the same policies from the United States [on the Taiwan question].”
“Blinken’s stance seems to be similar to U.S. policy in the past, which is strengthening Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities and facilitating its participation on the international stage,” Huang said.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.