Mike Pompeo is laying ‘landmines’ on Taiwan policy, former Australian leader warns

Kinling Lo
·3-min read

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is laying “landmines” for the incoming administration on Taiwan policy, former Australian prime minister and China scholar Kevin Rudd has warned.

Pompeo on Saturday lifted internal restrictions on how US officials may interact with their Taiwanese counterparts – a move that enraged Beijing, which sees the island as part of its territory and opposes official exchanges between Taipei and other governments.

Speaking with CNBC on Monday, Rudd – Australia’s leader from 2007 to 2010 and also in 2013 – accused Pompeo of making such moves out of self-interest.

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“What Pompeo is doing is laying a whole series of landmines for the incoming [Joe] Biden administration … salting the earth in the US-China relationship in general, and laying landmines on Taiwan in particular,” said Rudd, now president of the New York-based Asia Society Policy Institute.

Australia’s former leader accused Mike Pompeo of “irresponsible” acts. Photo: Reuters
Australia’s former leader accused Mike Pompeo of “irresponsible” acts. Photo: Reuters

“The politics of this is to ensure that any change to any of those hardline positions … is saying those changes are embraced by the Biden administration, and Pompeo will be free to attack Biden and the Biden administration as having gone soft on Beijing,” Rudd said.

That was because Pompeo was paving the way to be nominated as the Republican candidate for the next US presidential election, according to Rudd.

He added that this was “not the right way to conduct the national security policy of the US”, adding that he viewed such acts as “irresponsible” as someone from Australia, a close ally of the United States.

With less than a week until US president-elect Biden’s inauguration, Taiwan has been at the centre of escalating tensions between Beijing and the outgoing Donald Trump administration. US ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft will arrive in Taipei on Wednesday for a three-day visit, another move that has angered Beijing.

Under Trump, relations between the US and Taiwan have been at their closest since 1979 – when Washington officially shifted diplomatic recognition to Beijing – while ties with China have deteriorated. Beijing has meanwhile ramped up military exercises near Taiwan and has threatened to bring the self-ruled island under mainland control, by force if necessary.

Rudd said he did not expect the incoming US administration to change the long-standing policy of “strategic ambiguity” on the question of whether it would intervene to protect Taiwan.

Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but remains vague about what it would do if the island needed defending from a mainland Chinese attack.

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“I do not see the Biden administration adopting a new policy of explicit military support for Taiwan. The [tradition of understanding] between administrations from both Republicans and Democrats on Taiwan has been ‘strategic ambiguity’ … I do not see that as changing,” Rudd said.

Biden has not made clear how he plans to reformulate US policy on China when he takes office on January 20, but statements made over several decades in politics give an indication of his stance on Taiwan. Biden has said he opposed both a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan and any military attack on the island by Beijing. He also said that he supported the sale of military equipment to Taiwan for defence, but opted for strategic ambiguity on whether the US would send forces to assist the island in the event of a Chinese attack.

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