Taiwan says it “respects” the US decision, but analysts say the island could be quietly relieved.
A trip by Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the United Nations in Taiwan this week was suddenly canceled on Wednesday after the Trump administration canceled all official commitments as part of its transition efforts to help US President-elect Joe Biden .
Craft was scheduled to begin the three-day trip on January 13 and meet with Island President Tsai Ing-wen.
Announced as part of a larger critique of the arrest of 53 democracy activists in Hong Kong, the trip had come under scrutiny at home and abroad for its timing so close to Biden’s inauguration next week.
Some critics feared it could poison the Biden administration’s relationship with China after relations between the two countries deteriorated sharply under Trump.
China had also warned that the United States would pay a “heavy price” for the visit to Taiwan. Beijing considers the democratic island of 23 million people to be part of its territory in a conflict that dates back to the late 1940s.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement on Wednesday that Taiwan “regrets” that Craft is unable to visit, but invited her to “visit at any time. in the future”.
Some analysts, including Bonnie Glaser, senior advisor for Asia and director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Taipei might actually be “somewhat relieved” by the sudden cancellation of the trip.
“Taiwan does not want to create friction with the incoming administration. They would have preferred this visit to have taken place several months ago, ”she told Al Jazeera.
While Craft’s trip would have been the first for a serving US ambassador to the UN, Taiwan last year hosted Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Under Secretary of State Keith. Crash. Both visits were condemned by China, which stepped up military maneuvers in the region while the men were in Taiwan.
The controversy also didn’t stop the State Department from a successful announcement on Saturday that it would lift “self-imposed restrictions on interactions between State Department personnel and their Taiwanese counterparts.”
The announcement gave more power to the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy in Taipei, to hold meetings with Taiwanese rather than follow the lead of the State Department in Washington, DC.
It is not known, however, how long these changes will last.
“The United States government has taken these steps unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing. No more, ”said outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement announcing the decision. “The United States government maintains relationships with unofficial partners around the world, and Taiwan is no exception.”
The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, it agreed to help Taiwan defend itself.
The US Congress has also set out to deepen its relationship in recent years through the Taiwan Insurance Act, which was enacted in late December, and the Taiwan Travel Act, which paved the way for official visits in 2018.
Under the Trump administration, US-Taiwan relations have been the strongest in decades, but many critics say Trump was only using Taiwan to provoke the ruling Communist Party in China.
While many Taiwanese are worried about their diplomatic future under a new president, Michael Mazza, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says Biden may be willing to retain some of the leeway that Trump created.
“I would be surprised if the Biden administration reinstated the Taiwan guidelines that Secretary Pompeo just rescinded,” Mazza said. “The Biden administration could continue to informally adhere to these guidelines if it is to be very careful. But I think he is more likely to take the opportunity to regularize diplomatic interactions with Taiwan. That does not mean [President] Tsai Ing-wen will soon be invited to Washington. “