In keeping with its long-standing policy of intimidation when it comes to Taiwan, China’s foreign ministry says it’s planning a response in protest of a US Navy admiral’s reported trip to the island democracy, USNI News reported.
“The Chinese side will, according to how the situation develops, make a legitimate and necessary response,” said Zhao Lijian, the spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, as reported by Reuters.
And of course, no one in Washington will care, because the Trump administration is on the way out, and could care less about the added challenges it leaves the Joe Biden presidency.
The Pentagon declined to comment, but Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) confirmed that a US official had arrived in the country but did not provide any details, adding the visit has not been made public, The Taiwan News reported.
That official is believed to be Rear Adm. Michael Studeman, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command’s intelligence directorate.
United Daily News (UDN) published photos of an unmarked private jet, which it said was a US military plane, arriving at Taipei’s Songshan Airport.
Data from flight-tracking website planefinder.net recorded a private plane flying into Songshan late Sunday afternoon from Hawaii, where Indo-Pacific Command is headquartered, USNI reported.
MOFA said in a short statement there were frequent interactions with Washington and that “we welcome the visit of the US official.”
It also added, “But as this itinerary has not been made public, based on mutual trust between Taiwan and the United States, the Foreign Ministry has no further explanation or comment,” The Taiwan News reported.
The trip comes as the US relationship with China has become increasingly strained this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s more critical rhetoric of Beijing.
President Donald Trump, when president-elect in 2016, ignored the diplomacy of previous administrations and phoned Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, a move that upended years of US policy toward Taipei.
Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told USNI News that active-duty officers at the two-star level have previously gone to Taiwan.
“[I]t’s my understanding that active-duty, two-star officers have traveled to Taiwan before. So there is a precedent. However, the goal on both sides has been to keep these military-to-military exchanges discrete so they can continue on a regularized basis,” Sayers said.
“It is unfortunate this one leaked out. Visits of this type are consistent with long-standing US policy and are critical to ensuring our two militaries remain closely aligned to deter Chinese coercion.”
China’s Zhao said at a press conference in Beijing that China “resolutely opposes” any form of exchanges between US and Taiwanese officials, Reuters reported.
Zhao told reporters that China urges the US to recognize the extreme sensitivity of the Taiwan “issue.”
That “sensitivity” was pretty much thrown out the window under the Trump reign.
In late October, the US State Department OK’d the potential sale of 100 Boeing-made Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems to Taiwan in a deal worth as much as $2.37bn, just a day after China said it would impose sanctions on US companies involved in weapons’ sales to the island, AL Jazeera reported.
The move came days after the State Department approved the potential sale of three other weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery with a potential value of $1.8bn.
Meanwhile, Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52) on Saturday performed a transit through the Taiwan Strait, the US Navy said in a statement.
“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” reads the statement from US 7th Fleet.
“The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
Saturday’s passage amounted to the 11th journey by a US Navy vessel in the area this year.
Analysts say it’s likely China’s response will be measured, as it does not want to upend potential better relations with the incoming Biden camp.
(Sources: USNI News, Reuters, Taiwan News, UDN, Al Jazeera, US Navy)