In a sign of the shifting U.S. position on Taiwan, Tokyo-based envoys from the two states have broken bread at Taipei’s de facto embassy in the Japanese capital — the first time ambassador-level diplomats have met there since 1979.
The move is in line with what some observers have heralded as a new standard for U.S. officials’ interactions with self-ruled Taiwan amid the United States’ growing rivalry with China.
Frank Hseih, who heads the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan, wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday that he had invited U.S. Embassy Charge d’affaires Joseph Young to dine with him at his official residence a day earlier to discuss “regional peace and prosperity” and other issues. The pair were joined by Japanese lawmakers, who Hseih described as “friends.”
“We exchanged views on issues related to regional peace and prosperity,” Hsieh wrote. “This was a first, a new beginning that carried important implications for cooperation between Taiwan, the United States and Japan.”
Young echoed the sentiment in a tweet from his official account, which was accompanied with a picture of the two meeting.
“Always good to see @Taiwan_in_Japan’s Frank Hsieh. We had another productive conversation about our shared regional priorities,” he wrote.
— ジョセフ・M・ヤング 駐日米国臨時代理大使 (@USAmbJapan) May 25, 2021
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office lambasted the meeting as well as Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party on Wednesday.
“Any intrigue involving plans (by the DPP) to rely on the U.S. to declare independence will fail,” the spokeswoman said, demanding that the U.S. side adhere to Beijing’s “One China” principle, which sees China as having sovereignty over the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
The meeting was the second time the two diplomats had met in less than three months — Young and Hsieh held a working dinner at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, which was also the first in 42 years, in early March. The post of U.S. ambassador to Japan has been vacant for more than a year.
Young was also scheduled to visit the Defense Ministry on Thursday. It was unclear if Taiwan would come up in any talks there, but Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi is a known supporter of stronger Tokyo-Taipei ties.
Monday’s meeting came amid soaring tensions between Washington and Beijing, with Taiwan taking center stage in the two superpowers’ rivalry.
Washington considers self-ruled Taiwan a key partner and crucial line of defense as the Chinese military continues to push further into the Western Pacific, threatening U.S. primacy in the waters and potentially putting Japanese security interests at risk.
The government in Beijing views Taiwan as an inherent part of China’s territory, a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary.
Although it no longer formally recognizes Taiwan, the United States under then-President Donald Trump sent Cabinet-level officials to the island last year and inked a number of economic and weapons deals with Taipei, including for the sale of advanced drones and powerful missile systems designed to deter any attempt at invading the island.
Under the administration of President Joe Biden, the U.S. State Department last month restored rules governing officials’ contacts with Taiwan that were lifted in the Trump White House’s final days, but said the new protocols would “liberalize guidance on contacts” with Taipei.
The visit from Young follows a series of incremental moves that the U.S. has been making since the Trump administration, including inviting Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the U.S. to Biden’s inauguration, to loosen restrictions on interactions with Taipei.
Jonathan Berkshire Miller, an international security expert and a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo, said the U.S. effectively does not want to let China believe it holds a veto over Washington’s diplomatic interactions with Taipei.
“This most recent visit to Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Tokyo pushes this point again — reinforcing a new standard for normal interactions with Taiwan,” Miller said.
It’s also no coincidence that the public interactions are happening through Japan, Miller said.
Tokyo has in recent months repeatedly voiced concerns about the possibility of a Taiwan contingency and has long viewed the issue of conflict in the Taiwan Strait as a top security challenge.
The issue took center stage during Biden and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s April summit in Washington, where the two leaders emphasized “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
“The U.S. hopes to synergize efforts much more closely with Tokyo on security in the Taiwan Strait, including any contingencies,” Miller said.
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