Biden to send delegation to Taiwan after election

Former lawmakers, governors and cabinet secretaries may join the ‘unofficial’ trip, a White House official said.
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
2024.01.10
Washington
Biden to send delegation to Taiwan after election Supporters of Ko Wen-je, Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) presidential candidate, attend a campaign event ahead of the election in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jan. 7, 2024.
Ann Wang/Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden will send an “unofficial” delegation of former officials to Taiwan following Saturday’s presidential election, a White House official said Wednesday, labeling the practice “nothing new.”

The self-governing island of Taiwan, which is claimed by mainland China as its “inalienable” territory, this weekend heads to its 8th direct presidential election since it democratized in 1996, amid growing threats in recent years from Beijing of forceful “reunification.”

Both Washington and Beijing are watching the result closely, with the island’s relationship with the mainland at the center of campaigning and three major parties offering contrasting takes on the issue. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity to talk freely about Biden’s plans, a White House official said on Wednesday that U.S. officials were in touch with counterparts in both Beijing and Taipei “in keeping with past precedent and our unofficial relationship with Taiwan.”

“We also intend to send an unofficial delegation after the Taiwan election. We're not in a position to confirm the timing of the delegation, or the participants,” they said, adding it was a usual practice used “not just in this administration but [in] other administrations in the past.”

“We often send these high level unofficial delegations of former government officials to Taipei,” the official continued. “We have a decade's long tradition of doing so. This is nothing new.” 

In the past, former lawmakers, state governors, White House chiefs of staff and cabinet secretaries had been sent, the official said.

Sore point

Visits by U.S. officials to the democratic island have in the past flared up bitter tensions between Washington and Beijing. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August 2022 high-profile visit there, for instance, led to nearly a year of acrimony between the countries.

A meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco in November appeared to paper over those tensions, but the future status of Taiwan remains a sticking point in the relationship.

Senior Chinese military officials this week met with U.S. counterparts in Washington, but the two sides issued contrasting readouts. The Americans defended the “unofficial” U.S. ties with Taiwan, while the Chinese side demanded the United States “stop arming Taiwan” and insisted there will be no “concession or compromise” on the island.

Separately, Liu Jianchao, the director of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Tuesday that U.S. policy on Taiwan was central to good relations between the world’s two powers.

“Having engaged with each other for such a long time, both China and the United States know too well each other’s core interests and red lines that can never be crossed,” Liu said during his speech.

“For China, the Taiwan question is at the very core of the core interests,” he said. “It’s the red line that must not be crossed.”

The White House official, though, insisted the delegation was “well within precedent,” and noted Biden had in April 2021 and February 2022 sent similar delegations of former officials to Taiwan, neither of which were viewed “as escalatory” by China, they said.

They added they could not predict what China’s “reaction will be to the elections, or their outcome” but said the United States would continue to have a “strong relationship” with Taiwan whoever wins on Saturday.

“Beijing will be the provocateur should it choose to respond with additional military pressure or coercion,” the official said.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn.

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