Biden sends former officials to Taiwan to 'offset Pompeo', pacify DPP
Published: Mar 01, 2022 11:07 PM
Taiwan Photo: Unsplash

Taiwan Photo: Unsplash

A bipartisan US delegation of former senior defense and security officials landed in Taiwan island on Tuesday amid the escalating Ukraine crisis, which was hyped by some Western media and Taiwan secessionists as a prelude to Taiwan's future. 

The Washington-proposed visit was described as a "surprise" by Taiwan media, as the sudden tour overlaps with the Taiwan visit of former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which is scheduled to start on Wednesday. Both the delegation and Pompeo are expected to meet with Taiwan's regional leader Tsai Ing-wen, but at different time.

Chinese experts said that in addition to the vocal support for Taiwan's secessionist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authority, which is now mired in public opposition and skepticism for its reliance on a US that abandons its allies, the Biden administration also aims to offset impact of former secretary of state, who has ambitions for the 2024 presidential election.  

The White House National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, Kurt Campbell, said on Monday that the delegation's visit is meant to convey consistent support for peace in the Taiwan Straits. In July, 2021, Campbell said the Biden administration does not support "Taiwan independence."

The delegation's visit met with strong opposition from the Chinese mainland.   

"It is futile for the US to send anyone to show its so-called support for Taiwan," Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at Tuesday's routine press briefing.

The delegation is being led by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, who was a top military official under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and also includes Meghan O'Sullivan, a former deputy national security advisor under Bush, and Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense under Obama, Taiwan media reported. 

Wang urged the US to abide by the one-China principle, stop any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan authority and prudently handle the Taiwan question so as not to further seriously damage the overall situation of China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.  

Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council, said Tuesday that no pro-Taiwan action can change the fact that Taiwan is a part of China, nor can it stop China's reunification process.  

Zhu said emboldening Taiwan by colluding with external forces will not bring about the security or well-being of the Taiwan people, and will only further turn Taiwan into an anti-China pawn of external forces and accelerate the demise [of the secessionist authority].  

Pacify, balance and offset

Officials from Taiwan's external affairs authority expressed gratitude for the delegation's visit, saying it shows the US' solid support for the island. The visit comes less than a year after US President Joe Biden sent former US Senator Christopher Dodd to lead a delegation to Taiwan.

However, many Taiwan people, who have witnessed endless US arms sales and the DPP authority's decision to lift import bans of ractopamine-enhanced pork from the US, suspect that the US is trying to raise the price of its protection fee for Taiwan during this trip.

The US' refusal to send troops to Ukraine has made diehard Taiwan secessionists who harbor wishful thinking over Washington even more anxious, with some of them starting to criticize Tsai's pro-US line, Chang Ya-chung, the president of the Sun Yat-sen School in Taiwan and a member of Taiwan's major opposition party KMT, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

He said US delegation's visit is more of a show of support for the DPP, which is mired in opposition, and aimed at pacifying secessionists. 

According to the latest poll on February in Taiwan, more than half of adults do not appreciate or have doubts about the US' handling of the Ukraine crisis, as they want to know if the US would treat Taiwan in the same way it treats Ukraine. 

According to Chang, if Taiwan, instigated by the US, provokes a war with the mainland, it would be impossible for Washington to send troops, as the Taiwan question is China's internal affairs, which means the legal basis for US intervention is weaker than that of the Ukraine crisis. 

Yuan Zheng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that besides ostensibly seeking to placate Taiwan, the US is also sending a signal to the mainland that the Biden administration will not follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump by sending a sitting senior official to Taiwan, as the latest visit follows the model of Christopher Dodd's visit last year. 

Despite the discrepancy between Biden's words and deeds on the Taiwan question, he still stressed that he would stick to the one-China policy. 

Yuan said, "He [Biden] knows that sending an incumbent official to Taiwan at this time will cause high tensions across the Taiwan Straits and in China-US relations."  

The US does not want to see a reunified China, nor does it want a war in the Taiwan Straits amid the Ukraine crisis, said Yuan. 

The Biden administration is also facing pressure from the opposition camp. US media said the Biden administration declined to comment on the fact that the tour is overlapping with Pompeo's, who has repeatedly blamed Biden for not taking the defense of Taiwan seriously. 

"Since Pompeo, a Republican who has ambitions for the 2024 election, is also scheduled to visit the island soon, the Democratic administration wants to offset a negative impact ahead of Pompeo's trip," said Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies and a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Some analysts said Biden's sudden dispatch of the delegation may have been an attempt to "draw red lines" for the upcoming meeting between Tsai and Pompeo to avoid angering China at a time of instability, while at the same time offsetting the impact of Pompeo's trip. 

According to Lü, Pompeo will boast that the Republicans are "the reliable guardian" and that the DPP should not support the Democrats, and "he might say the facts in Ukraine prove the Democrats' weakness." 

In general, this [Taiwan visit] is a result caused by the internal partisan struggle in the US against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, rather than a move that is aimed at provoking the Chinese mainland, but the DPP authority will find it awkward to handle this, as it is hard to maintain a balance between the ruling Democrats and a former Trump administration official, experts said. 

The mainland is being calm, as the number of military aircraft exercising and patrolling around the island of Taiwan remain as usual, and there has been no sign of increasing large naval drills recently as far as the general public is aware of,said Lü

"The world is chaotic enough at the moment. As long as the DPP authority and the US don't make new extreme provocations, the mainland is unlikely to take new action. China will continue to play a role in stabilizing the international community rather than add more uncertainties, and the mainland will promote the peaceful solution of the Taiwan question with the greatest patience and sincerity," Lü noted.