TAIPEI – Taiwan and the United States held a government-to-government dialogue Monday to discuss expanding cooperation in the Pacific region, the first of its kind since the self-ruled island lost two diplomatic allies in the Pacific in a week last month.
The first U.S.-Taiwan Pacific Islands Dialogue was co-organized by the Foreign Ministry and Washington’s de facto embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan.
Among those attending the one-day meeting was Sandra Oudkirk, a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who said the United States wants to see a free and open Indo-Pacific and deepen its relationships with nations across the region that share its values.
“Taiwan is a force for good in the Pacific, and in the world. That is why we firmly support Taiwan’s relationships with Pacific Island nations,” Oudkirk said.
Taiwan lost the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in a week last month, leaving only 15 countries that recognize the self-ruled island as a sovereign entity with four in the Pacific.
Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has accused China of luring Taiwan’s allies way with fund packages that could lead to debt traps.
“I personally also worry that the Taiwan model of foreign aid will be gradually replaced by the ‘China mode,’ which represents corruption, deception and debt traps,” Wu said at the meeting.
Pointing out the strategic significance of Taiwan’s two former allies, Wu said he would hate to see the Pacific turn into another South China Sea if the world waits until “it is too late for us to do anything.”
The best way to prevent it, he said, is “for all responsible stakeholders in the region to realize the value of Taiwan’s presence in the Pacific, and push back strongly against China’s efforts to erode that presence.”
The U.S. government reportedly attempted to talk the Solomon Islands and Kiribati out of switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, but to no avail.
Emphasizing the U.S. government wants to see its partners in the Pacific benefit from development activities, Oudkirk said development financing should not result in unsustainable debt.
She called Taiwan “a reliable partner and responsible stakeholder,” saying the U.S. government desires to work together with it to expand bilateral cooperation to the Pacific Islands.
AIT Director Brent Christensen said he hoped Monday’s discussions will be a longer conversation about how to better leverage resources to deliver critical improvements to better opportunities in the Pacific region.
Hailing Taiwan an “impressive democratic success story, a reliable partner and a force for good in the world,” Christensen said the United States supports Taiwan in its efforts to expand its already significant contributions to addressing global challenges.