US diplomat: Official ties to Taiwan would ‘undermine’ peace

With Beijing aiming to seize the island, the US must remain the champion of the ‘status quo.’
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
US diplomat: Official ties to Taiwan would ‘undermine’ peace Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of State for East Asian Pacific Affairs, attends a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Philippines Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo in New York, on Sept. 22, 2023.
Bing Guan/AP

The United States should not end nearly half a century of unofficial relations with Taiwan to instead recognize the self-governing island as its own country, a senior U.S. diplomat told Congress on Tuesday.

Taiwan is claimed by China as an inalienable part of its territory, but is governed independently of Beijing with the close support of the United States, with which the democratic island holds “unofficial ties.”

Since January 1979, Washington has said Taipei and Beijing need to resolve their differences without conflict, and that the “status quo” of how Taiwan is governed should continue unchanged until then.

Speaking to a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said nothing would be gained by shifting that position now to instead recognize Taiwan as an independent country separate from China.

“That framework has stood the test of time for the last 45 years,” Kritenbrink said in his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, The Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.

He said it was more “practical” to focus on “tangible means to build Taiwan’s deterrent capabilities” to ward off an invasion by China.

“We have preserved peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said. “We believe that changing that framework, changing … the core elements of the U.S. ‘One China’ policy would be unwise – and rather than contributing to stability, we believe it would undermine it.”

“It's important that the United States and our allies and partners continue to be the parties that stand for the status quo, that stand for the responsible maintenance of the status quo,” he added.

Conflict not inevitable

The United States has for decades upheld a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over what the U.S. military response would be if Chinese forces were to invade and attempt to annex the island, neither committing American forces to defend it nor ruling it out. 

More recently, though, President Joe Biden has bucked that policy to commit U.S. forces to defend the island if it was invaded by Beijing.

That has led some in Congress to suggest Washington should end the “appeasement” of Beijing and recognize the close American ally officially as a country before an invasion is launched – a move experts say could counterproductively provoke China into invading.

U.S. military leaders have also in the past few years offered increasingly near-term predictions of when Chinese President Xi Jinping could invade Taiwan – as early as next year – after Xi in 2022 vowed never to “renounce the use of force” to take the island.

Kritenbrink said a conflict over Taiwan would have a “devastating impact” on the world economy, noting that 50% of all global container traffic passes through the Taiwan Strait and that 90% of the world’s most advanced microchips are produced on the island.

That was another reason for the United States not to be seen as provoking any change over Taiwan, with countries across the world supporting the “status quo” of peace on the island, he said.

“We do not see a conflict as being either imminent or inevitable,” Kritenbrink said, “and we're doing everything possible … to contribute to maintaining that peace and stability, and maintaining deterrence, so that Beijing is never tempted to take precipitous action.”

Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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Michael R. Betzer
May 01, 2024 09:40 AM

I do NOT concur with Mr. Kritinbrink. The Republic of China, temporarily on the island of Formosa, is the SOLE legitimate government for all of China. And should be recognized as such.🇹🇼