US and Taiwan move closer, irritating China

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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (R) gestures to US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar during his visit to the Presidential Office in Taipei on August 10, 2020.Pei Chen | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – Taiwan recently established closer relations with the United States, angering China.The development comes as Taipei moves away from China ahead of the US presidential election and China ramps up military activities around the island.

On August 31, State Department Assistant Secretary David Stilwell said Washington and Taipei would establish a new bilateral economic dialogue that will focus on technology, but will also cover health care and energy. After the announcement, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said that bilateral relations “are getting stronger day by day.”

Days earlier, Taiwan announced it would ease restrictions on U.S. imports of beef and pork, paving the way for a possible free trade deal with the United States.

Last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan, becoming the highest U.S. official to visit in four decades.

The developments between Taipei and Washington come as the rivalry between the United States and China grows deeper.

“Washington is embroiled in an increasingly fierce competition between the great powers with Beijing, which raises fears that the United States is strengthening its ties with Taiwan mainly to frustrate and thwart China,” wrote Derek Grossman, senior analyst defense at Rand Corp, in a comment. last month which first appeared in the South China Morning Post.

The move has sparked protests from China, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory that must one day be reunified with the mainland and therefore should not be allowed to participate in international diplomacy. During Azar’s visit, Chinese fighter jets crossed the middle line of the Taiwan Strait.

“Beijing is increasingly concerned about US-Taiwan cooperation, including a call by some Taiwanese observers in the United States for Washington to end its policy of strategic ambiguity and pledge concrete support for Taiwan against the Chinese aggression, ”said Kelsey Broderick and Michael Hirson, Eurasian analysts. a note Monday.

Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taipei, but is Taiwan’s strongest international supporter and largest arms supplier.

The United States cautious about Taiwan’s tilt

Despite closer relations between the United States and Taiwan, Washington should be cautious in its next actions.

Eurasian analysts noted that Stilwell did not announce that the United States would resume negotiations on a bilateral trade pact with Taiwan.

“The United States is not likely to start talks before the election, but could still announce them if President Donald Trump wins a second term,” they added.

In the meantime, Taiwan has also sought to distance itself from China, introducing a new passport design that seeks to highlight the word “Taiwan” on its cover, removing its official name of “Republic of China” in English. The Taiwanese legislature also approved a proposal to rename the carrier China Airlines.

But for now, Washington should remain cautious about its stance on Taiwan, analysts said.

“If the United States announced a formal position on Taiwan sovereignty in favor of Taipei, it would likely cross a red line, triggering a strong military response from China,” Eurasian analysts said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in US-China relations.

If the United States took increasingly provocative measures, such as one day sending the Secretary of State or the Chief of Defense, forging a formal military alliance with Taiwan, or even unilaterally recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation, it could lead to armed conflict. between the US and China over Taiwan – certainly an undesirable outcome for Taipei, ”added Grossman of Rand Corp.

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