‘Playing with fire’: China warns US over envoy’s Taiwan mission

Teddy Ng
·5-min read

China accused the United States of “playing with fire” with its plans to send its UN envoy to Taiwan next week, saying the move would create “new difficulties” for the already troubled ties between Beijing and Washington.

The visit from January 13 to 15 by Kelly Craft to Taiwan is seen by the mainland as the latest move by the outgoing administration of Donald Trump to further damage China-US relations and put US president-elect Joe Biden in a corner.

“We wish to remind the United States that whoever plays with fire will burn himself. The United States will pay a heavy price for its wrong action,” a spokesman for China’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement.

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“China strongly urges the United States to stop its crazy provocation, stop creating new difficulties for China-US relations and the two countries’ cooperation in the United Nations, and stop going further on the wrong path.”

The US would not succeed in its attempt to harm China’s core interests by politically manipulating Taiwan, it added.

Craft will be the third senior US official to visit Taiwan after undersecretary of state Keith Krach visited in September and Health and Human Rights Secretary Alex Azar went in August.

The US mission said that during her trip, Craft would “reinforce the US government’s strong and ongoing support for Taiwan’s international space, in accord with the US one-China policy that is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three US-PRC joint communiques, and the Six Assurances to Taiwan”.

Craft is also expected to deliver remarks on Taiwan’s contributions to the global community and call for expanding Taiwan’s participation in international organisations.

The American envoy has been vocal in her support for Taiwan and has lashed out at Beijing over human rights issues. She told a Heritage Foundation seminar in New York last month that Beijing’s human rights abuses stood “in stark contrast to Taiwan, a true force for good in the world”.

But Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and opposes any official visit between the US and the self-ruled island.

Its fighter jets approached the island in August and September during the visits by Azar and Krach.

Craft’s visit follows a series of recent actions taken by the Trump administration against China. This week, the president signed an executive order banning Chinese payment apps in the US. The White House has also ordered the delisting of three major Chinese companies from the New York Stock Exchange.

Diplomatic observers said those moves would further damage China-US relations during the remaining two weeks of Trump’s term, but Beijing might not take drastic countermeasures at this stage.

Liu Weidong, a specialist on US-China relations with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the trip would not have a big impact on the next US administration’s policy on China or Taiwan.

“With little room to influence domestic policies, Trump has been desperately trying to cause trouble to prevent a rapprochement between China and the US,” Liu said.

“Trump is trying to put pressure on the incoming Biden administration because [Biden] will be criticised for not doing enough if he is seen to have backtracked on some of Trump’s policies regarding China. But this attempt will have limited impact and will not have sway on the new administration’s policymaking.”

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The announcement of Craft’s trip came amid unrest in the US, with crowds laying siege to the US Capitol.

Congressional Democrats have called on Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment – a provision that unseats the president should they be deemed unfit for office – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has threatened impeachment against Trump.

Even though Craft is not a US cabinet member and is unlikely to offer the self-ruled island anything substantial, the trip could still boost US-Taiwan relations.

Wang Kung-yi, director of Taiwan International Strategic Study Society, said the White House could be trying to set a precedent.

“The outgoing administration might want to establish a convention for the Biden administration to follow, and this is also in line with the Taiwan Travel Act signed into law by Trump in 2018 to allow high-level official exchanges between the US and Taiwan,” Wang said.

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But Sun Da-chien, a former legislator of the main opposition Kuomintang, said the Trump administration was simply using Taiwan as a pawn to counter mainland China.

“What exactly can Craft’s visit bring Taiwan? Can she promise to help Taiwan rejoin the UN? Will the US propose in the UN for the resumption of Taiwan’s membership?” he said.

Cui Liru, a senior researcher at the Taihe Institute and former president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Craft’s visit was not a breakthrough.

“The Trump administration and [Taiwanese President] Tsai Ing-wen will spare no efforts to promote US-Taiwan relations until Trump hands over power. Their purpose is to raise US-Taiwan relations to a height that the Biden administration cannot reverse,” Cui said.

“Although Biden will not handle US-Taiwan relations like Trump has, his administration won’t be able to take significant actions to reverse the current situation soon after he takes office, because there are more urgent domestic issues to be resolved.”

Additional reporting by Catherine Wong, Kinling Lo and Rachel Zhang

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