Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier – it now has two – photographed near Hong Kong in 2017. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday declined to “get into hypotheticals” when asked if the U.S. would respond militarily “if China does try something in Taiwan.” But he stressed that there has been a longstanding U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s defense, and “it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force.”

Blinken appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” a day after a Chinese aircraft carrier task group ended several days of exercises in waters near the island democracy which Beijing views as a rebel province that must be reincorporated eventually, by force if necessary.


“Are we prepared to defend Taiwan militarily?” asked NBC’s Chuck Todd.

Blinken did not answer directly, but said, “What we’ve seen and what is a real concern to us is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the straits.”

“And we have a commitment to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act – a bipartisan commitment that’s existed for many, many years – to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to make sure that we’re sustaining peace and security in the Western Pacific.”

Asked again, Blinken refused to “get into hypotheticals” about possible military action in response to Chinese aggression against Taiwan.

Todd then asked whether China might not look at the U.S. response to Russia’s 2014 takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and conclude that U.S. commitments to partner nations were “not as rock solid as you just outlined them as” being.

Blinken took issue with the premise, saying the U.S. in 2014 had “led a very significant international effort to impose real costs and sanctions on Russia for its aggression” in Ukraine.

Todd pointed out that that Western response had not “worked out very well,” to which Blinken countered that the Western actions may have “deterred Russian from doing even more.” He added that President Biden has been clear that “there’ll be consequences” for aggressive Russia behavior.

(Seven years after annexing Crimea following a referendum rejected by most of the international community Russia continues to occupy the strategic Black Sea peninsula. It also continues to support armed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region – where ceasefire violations are frequent, and tensions have risen in recent weeks over a troop buildup on the Russian side of the international border.)

On Saturday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy carrier Liaoning and its task group concluded almost a week of exercises near Taiwan and entered the South China Sea, state media reported.

Asked Friday about the drills, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the military activity “potentially destabilizing” and said the U.S. has “publicly and privately expressed our concerns – our growing concerns about China’s aggression towards Taiwan.”

Psaki also said the U.S. was “not looking, as you know, for confrontation with China,” adding that the focus was a relationship “based on steep competition.”

‘A force for good’

Also on Saturday (Beijing time), the State Department said it was announcing new guidelines to “encourage” government engagement with Taiwan’s government “that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship.”

The notice was issued following a review of State Department guidance, as required by the Taiwan Assurance Act – bipartisan legislation included in an omnibus spending package signed into law by President Trump last December.

“These new guidelines liberalize guidance on contacts with Taiwan, consistent with our unofficial relations, and provide clarity throughout the Executive Branch on effective implementation of our ‘one China’ policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances,” said department spokesman Ned Price.

“Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and an important security and economic partner that is also a force for good in the international community.”

The department did not publicize the actual guidelines, so it’s unclear how they relate to or differ from outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision in January to lift “self-imposed restrictions” on high-level official contacts between the U.S. and Taiwanese governments – restrictions which Pompeo characterized as “an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing.”

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter cut formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognized Beijing. Congress the same year passed the Taiwan Relations Act, committing the U.S. to protect the island from unprovoked aggression, and to provide it with military aid.

The three Joint Communiqués cited by Price, signed in 1972, 1979 and 1982, saw the U.S. acknowledge the position that there is “one China” but without explicitly recognizing Beijing’s claims to Taiwan.

President Reagan’s “Six Assurances” to Taiwan in 1982 include the policy that the U.S. “has not changed our long-standing policy on the matter of sovereignty over Taiwan.” That long-standing policy was that the issue was undetermined and should be decided peacefully by the sides themselves.

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