The Pentagon slammed the Chinese armed forces for threatening Taiwan with joint military moves as a senior U.S. official conducted a rare visit to the self-ruling island claimed by the mainland government in Beijing.
As local officials greeted Keith Krach, the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, at Taipei International Airport late Thursday, People’s Liberation Army brass vowed a show of force to intimidate against such acts they viewed as violations of the four-decade One China Principle that excludes formal ties with Taiwan. Chinese warplanes even crossed the Taiwan Strait to drive home the point.
While the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it has maintained and recently boosted informal ties that the Pentagon spokesperson John Supple defended in remarks sent to Newsweek.
“We have maintained constructive, unofficial relations with Taiwan for 40 years,” Supple said. “The PLA’s aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history.”
He tied the maneuvers to what he saw as a history of the People’s Republic using sheer force to influence foreign policy in the region.
“This is another example of the PRC increasingly using its military as a tool of coercion with Taiwan and other neighbors,” Supple said. “Taiwan’s security—and its people’s ability to determine their future, free from coercion—remains a vital interest to the United States and is integral to regional security.”
But China has a different view.
Eastern Command Theater spokesperson Air Force Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui said in a statement that joint naval and air force exercises were intended “to test the level of integration of different forces and weapons systems.”
“Such actions are necessary measures to deal with the current situation in the Taiwan Strait, and will help improve the ability of theater troops to defend national unity and territorial sovereignty,” he added, vowing to defeat any “separatist” forces in Taiwan.
Chinese Ministry Defense spokesperson Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang also tied the exercises to a perceived U.S.-backed attempt to divide two rival governments that both claim to be the true representatives of China since the end of their civil war in 1949.
“Taiwan is a sacred and inalienable part of China’s territory,” Ren said. “The Taiwan issue is purely China’s internal affairs and does not allow any foreign interference.”
“Recently, the U.S. and the Democratic Progressive Party authorities have stepped up their liaison and frequently caused incidents,” he added. “Whether it is to control China in Taiwan or to hold foreign countries, it is wishful thinking, and it is destined to be a dead end.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry had issued a warning ahead of Krach’s trip to Taiwan, where he was to attend a memorial for late former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. It’s the second trip for such a high-level official after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited last month in a move that also prompted a Chinese military response.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin warned Krach’s visit would be a “violation” of the current consensus regarding Taiwan’s status and warned China would take “necessary reaction in light of the development of the situation.”
U.S.-China ties have deteriorated rapidly over the course of this year, Washington looking to downgrade Beijing’s international footprint over a long list of alleged abuses involving trade, human rights and geopolitical quarrels. Territorial tensions in Asia have been especially exacerbated as President Donald Trump’s administration portrayed rival Xi Jinping as an aggressor.
Hitting out at Chinese claims to Hong Kong, a disputed border stretch with India, the South China Sea and Taiwan, Assistant Secretary Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell called China a “lawless bully” in his testimony to lawmakers on Thursday.
The U.S. official separated Washington’s interactions with Taipei from those it conducts with Beijing.
“Notwithstanding China’s aggressive behavior in the region, our relationship with Taiwan stands on its own and our relationship with Taiwan is not a subset of U.S.-China relations,” Stillwell told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We have made clear that the United States will continue to advance our engagement with Taiwan.”
Stillwell reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the One China Policy and a peaceful resolution to the feud but also promised to “continue to provide Taiwan defense articles and services to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”
Wang reiterated his previously stated position on China at Friday’s press conference and scoffed at Washington’s portrayal of Beijing as a threat to an international rules-based order.
He highlighted the examples of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Climate Agreement as well as U.S. rejections of World Trade Organization rulings against it and the country having nearly alone, save for Israel, in rejecting a recent United Nations General Assembly resolution favoring a global response against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The world sees clearly who’s the quitter from international treaties and organizations, who’s the violator of international rules and who’s a threat to international order,” Wang said.