Azar Taipei Visit Will Edge United States Closer To China’s Redlines

BEIJING HAS REACTED as would be expected to the forthcoming visit of the US health secretary, Alex Azar, to Taipei. Azar is due to arrive on the island over the next couple of days at the head of the highest-level delegation to visit since Washington cut ties with Taipei more than 40 years ago. His schedule includes a meeting with China-sceptic Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin put it thus, walking a fine line between being clear about Beijing’s redlines while not falling for being provoked by the Trump administration:

China firmly opposes any official interactions between the US and Taiwan. This position is consistent and clear. China has made stern representatives with the US side both in Beijing and in Washington. For the China-US relationship, the Taiwan question is one of the utmost importance with the highest level of sensitivity, and the one-China principle is the political foundation. We urge the US to adhere to the one-China principle and the three joint communiques, stop making official interactions of any kind with Taiwan, handle Taiwan-related issues prudently and properly, and keep from letting out any wrong signals to “Taiwan independence” elements to avoid severe damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The overt purpose of Azar’s visit is to discuss Covid-19 pandemic responses. But the intent is captured in the official announcement of the trip:

I look forward to conveying President Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health.

Azar led the ultimately unsuccessful initiative by the United States to get Taiwan to attend the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May, one of many efforts on the part of the Trump administration to deepen contacts with Taipei and keep it engaged with international organisations.

There is a concern in Taipei and Washington that China may attempt to accelerate regaining control over Taiwan after its success in imposing a national security law in Hong Kong which has been immediately directed at quashing pro-independence activists. Increased PLA Navy and Air Force activity around the island in recent months stokes these apprehensions.

In reply, there has been rising support for Taipei in Washington. In July, the Trump administration approved a possible $620 million deal to supply Taipei with missile parts, a move that caused Beijing to impose sanctions on the Lockheed Martin Corp. in retaliation. Other weapons sales during the Trump administration included billions of dollars’ worth of F-16 fighter jets, tanks and Stinger missiles.

The potential for armed conflict in the Strait is ever-present, with miscalculation the greatest risk for triggering it. The United States is continuously seeking means to demonstrate its support for Taiwan’s autonomy in ways that are deliberately confrontational towards Beijing without breaching its redlines. The margin of error is small, and getting smaller.

3 Comments

Filed under China-U.S., Taiwan

3 responses to “Azar Taipei Visit Will Edge United States Closer To China’s Redlines

  1. Pingback: Washington’s China Hawks Run Free | China Bystander

  2. Pingback: Taiwan Free Trade Deal Would Inch US Closer to China’s Redline | China Bystander

  3. Pingback: China And US Risk Crossed Lines Over Taiwan | China Bystander

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