Washington’s commitment to Taiwan remains strong, says US ‘ambassador’

·3-min read

The top US envoy to Taiwan has assured the island that America remains committed to its security and wants to maintain a close partnership in the face of protests from Beijing.

“Our obligation to support Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defence capability against coercion remains a foundational element of the Taiwan Relations Act,” Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto embassy, told an online news conference on Wednesday.

Christensen, who will leave Taipei this summer after a three-year term, said two recently declassified documents – one on arms supplies for Taiwan and the other on six assurances to underscore Washington’s commitments to the island – would remain “primary source documents that guide our cross-strait policy”.

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Taiwan and the United States do not have formal relations, but Washington, which switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, has maintained close and substantive ties with Taipei since then. The Taiwan Relations Act cited by Christensen commits Washington to supplying arms to help the island defend itself.

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Beijing – which regards Taiwan as an inalienable part of China and has repeatedly protested against US arms supplies to the island – has never renounced the use of force to reunite it with the mainland.

Relations under Washington and Taipei have become closer in recent years, especially during Donald Trump’s presidency, which saw the rivalry with mainland China intensify.

Christensen said since he took up the post in 2018, the US has approved more than US$16.9 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, ranging from F16 fighter jets and M1 tanks to drones, rockets and the Harpoon Coastal Defence System.

“You have probably heard a lot of talk about Taiwan’s ‘asymmetric capabilities’ – that is, Taiwan’s ability to use its relative size and position to its advantage, rather than engage in an expensive arms race with the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” he said.

The American Institute has long stressed the need for Taiwan to focus on its asymmetric capabilities, and cheaper, resilient, and more mobile systems support that approach, he said.

“The US strongly opposed the PRC efforts to change the cross-strait status quo and take advantage of the [Covid-19] pandemic to coerce and bully Taiwan and its neighbours,” he said when asked to comment on the risk Taiwan is facing and whether a cross-strait conflict is imminent.

“We feel Taiwan security is a critical element of security in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said, adding other countries including Japan and G7 member states also understood the importance of Taiwan’s security.

“I would also finally stress that the US will continue to fulfil its obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act and six assurances to support Taiwan’s self-defence,” he said.

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Christensen said he was confident the close US-Taiwan partnership will continue to flourish under the Biden government.

“Tactics may change – the Biden Administration has indicated that it intends to utilise a multilateral approach to many problems the Trump Administration preferred to address through unilateral or bilateral action. But the fundamentals will remain the same,” he said.

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