Taiwan and US set for sensitive dialogue – and reveal the timing in advance

Lawrence Chung
·3-min read

Taiwan and the United States will hold talks on political and military cooperation in a move certain to draw protest from Beijing two weeks before the change of government in Washington.

In a rare move, the US State Department made public the schedule of the closed-door talks, to be held online at 6.30pm on Wednesday in Washington (7.30am Thursday in Taipei) with Clarke Cooper, the US assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, among those taking part.

The sensitive round of dialogue comes two months after the first US-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue was held in Washington – the result of a brief trip to Taiwan by US undersecretary of state Keith Krach, who was the highest-ranking State Department official to visit the island in more than four decades.

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Taiwan has been tight-lipped over who will represent the democratic island in talks with Cooper. Political and military dialogue is considered sensitive because of opposition from Beijing, which has time and again protested against official contact between Washington and Taipei.

Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory that must be reunited with mainland China by force if necessary. It protested against Krach’s Taiwan visit, insisting that it violated the one-China policy that the US committed to observing after it switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979.

“Taiwan and the US have maintained various levels of communication channels on a pluralistic agenda, and on issues of mutual concern,” Joanne Ou, a spokeswoman of Taiwan’s foreign ministry, said on Wednesday. “They have often kept those channels open and smooth in order to deepen their cooperation in political, economic, security and other areas.”

According to the semi-official Central News Agency in Taipei, the island was expected to send officials from the foreign and defence ministries to attend the videoconference, which was set to focus on regional developments, US-Taiwan military cooperation and arms sales.

This is not the first such dialogue between Washington and Taipei. In August 2019 Cooper posted on Twitter a photograph of himself with Stanley Kao, Taiwan’s then top envoy to the US, stating his commitment to “a US-Taiwan political-military dialogue to promote peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and region”.

It was not yet known whether the two sides would sign any agreements this time on regional cooperation in political and military arenas.

In November’s inaugural economic prosperity partnership dialogue, held partly online, Taiwan’s new envoy to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, represented the island and signed a memorandum of understanding with Ingrid Larson, managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan – the US’ de facto embassy on the island – to lay the groundwork for deeper and more comprehensive economic cooperation between the two sides.

Sung Wen-ti, visiting fellow of the Australian Centre on China at the Australian National University, said that political-military dialogue could help deepen the two sides’ unofficial relations, but what was worth noting was the definition of the dialogue.

“It is being held by the outgoing Donald Trump administration before Joe Biden [becomes president this month], meaning the mandate given by the Trump government to the event is limited,” Sung said.

He said the Biden administration could control the scope of the dialogue in future to have flexibility in response to Beijing’s protests about breaching the one-China policy and the three communiques that underpin US-China relations.

Sung said he expected this week’s dialogue to touch on strengthening Taiwan’s regional role in partnership with neighbouring countries, in addition to political and military cooperation with the US.

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