A United States delegation meets with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on March 2, 2022. Photo: president.gov.tw

The Chinese government has expressed its displeasure after a United States delegation, which included a group of former national security officials, visited Taiwan on Tuesday and Wednesday and called for strengthened ties with the island.

On Wednesday, the US delegation held a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and reassured the US commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act signed in 1979.

Tsai said Taiwanese people were determined to defend themselves and uphold their free and democratic way of life amid the rising military threat from China to Taiwan and the Asia Pacific region.

Chinese state media said cross-strait political tensions would be fueled by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Taiwan on Friday. The former US official is said to be a possible candidate for the US presidential election in 2024.

While the international community is focusing on the situation in Ukraine, Taiwan has raised concerns that mainland China may use this opportunity to invade the island. Last Saturday, military tensions in the Taiwan Strait increased as the People’s Liberation Army sent eight warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.

On the same day, the US missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson sailed through the Taiwan Strait.

The USS Ralph Johnson’s journey through the Taiwan Strait has angered China. Photo: WikiCommons / US Navy

US contract approved

The incidents came after the Biden administration on February 8 approved a US$100 million maintenance contract aimed at strengthening Taiwan’s missile defense systems amid rising tensions with China. On February 11, the US unveiled a new Indo-Pacific strategy and said it would work with partners inside and outside the region to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

On February 21, Beijing announced sanctions on two American defense contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp, as they had long participated in US arms sales to Taiwan.

On Tuesday, a delegation of former US top security and defense officials sent by Biden arrived in Taiwan and held a meeting with Tsai on Wednesday.

“We come to Taiwan at a very difficult and critical moment in world history as President Biden has said democracy is facing sustained and alarming challenges, most recently in Ukraine, now more than ever, and democracy needs champions,” said former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Glenn Mullen, who was leading the American delegation.

“The US will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan,” Mullen said.

“I do hope by being here with you, we can reassure you and your people, as well as our allies and partners in the region, that the United States stands firm behind its commitments.”

Mullen added that cooperation between the US and Taiwan was stronger, deeper and more expansive than ever before as April would mark the 43rd anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act, which Biden voted for early in his Senate tenure.

“At a time when the international community is firmly confused on the situation in Ukraine, President Biden has sent your delegation to Taiwan, which demonstrates the importance the United States places on our bilateral relationship and reflects our rock-solid ties,” Tsai told the US delegation in her welcome speech before the meeting.

“More importantly, your visit highlights Taiwan’s key roles in regional and global security and the need for the international democratic community to be even more united.”

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“At present China’s military threat to the Taiwan Strait and to the region continues to rise, whether by working to limit Taiwan’s international participation or by using cognitive warfare tactics and disinformation to divide Taiwanese society and erode our democracy,” Tsai said.

“China’s actions on this front have never ceased, but nor have the Taiwanese people given up our convictions because of these actions.”

She said Taiwan had worked even harder to safeguard its country by developing its domestic defense industry, strengthening its asymmetric warfare capabilities and shoring up Taiwanese people’s will to resist as well as their ability to defend against divisions from China’s cognitive warfare.

“The stability and security of the region have never been the exclusive concern of any one country. Indeed, the crisis in Ukraine has shown the world that cooperation and coordinated action among democratic countries is crucial,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan was looking forward to working more closely with the US and other stakeholders in the region to maintain regional peace and stability.

China opposes any official exchanges between the United States and the Taiwan region, Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Monday. Colluding with foreign forces could not bring security or improve the well-being of the Taiwanese people, but would only make Taiwan a pawn for foreign forces to oppose and curb the Chinese mainland, she said.

“The Chinese people are firmly determined and resolved to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The attempt by the US to show support to Taiwan will be in vain, no matter who the US sends,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a regular media briefing on Tuesday. 

“China urges the US to abide by the one-China principle and stipulations in the three China-US joint communiqués, stop all forms of official interactions with Taiwan and handle Taiwan-related issues in a prudent manner, lest it should further undermine the larger interests of China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

Mike Pompeo will be given an award while he’s in Taiwan. Photo: WikiCommons

US will pay ‘a heavy price’

Wang also said the US would have to pay a heavy price if it wanted to embolden the “Taiwan independence” forces by sending the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson to pass through the Taiwan Strait.

“If the US tries to intimidate and pressure China in this way, then we have this stern warning: the so-called military deterrence will be reduced to scrap iron when facing the steely great wall of the 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Wang said. “The trick of sending vessels to sail through the Taiwan Strait should be better saved to entertain those obsessed with hegemony.”

On Wednesday, ahead of his departure for Taiwan, Pompeo tweeted a picture showing a billboard “Welcome Mr. Pompeo to Taiwan.” According to Taiwanese media, Pompeo is due to receive a special award – the Order of Brilliant Star – a civilian order in Taiwan that recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of the nation.

At the same time, Chinese state media launched a new round of smear campaigns at Pompeo. The Global Times said Pompeo would soon receive a medal that “notorious right-wing Japanese politician” Shintaro Ishihara, who died on February 1, had received from Taiwan.

Wang Wenbin on Tuesday reminded reporters that Pompeo had been sanctioned by China in January 2021 due to his “anti-China actions.” 

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Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3