US rallies behind Taiwan after island loses more Pacific allies

The Taiwanese flag is lowered outside the embassy in Honiara after the relations between Taiwan and Solomon Islands were severed on Tuesday. Photo: Facebook/ Maverick Peter Seda. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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TAIPEI, Sep 27, 2019, SCMP. Senior US diplomat Sandra Oudkirk will travel to Taiwan in the next fortnight in a show of support for the island after two of Taipei’s Pacific allies switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing. Oudkirk, State Department deputy assistant secretary for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, told the US House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday that she would go to Taiwan as the US senior official to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, being held this year in Chile in November, reported the South China Morning Post.

Asked whether US officials would travel to Taipei to show American support for Taiwan after the Solomon Islands and Kiribati cut ties, Oudkirk said she would be making the trip to “consult with them on Apec-related issues”.

Oudkirk said Taiwan was a “democratic success story” and a “reliable partner” that US President Donald Trump’s administration would continue to support, particularly in helping Taiwan retain its diplomatic partners in the Pacific.

“We believe that China’s active campaign to alter the cross-strait status quo, including by enticing countries to discontinue their diplomatic ties with Taiwan, is harmful,” she said in her testimony. “This effort undermines regional stability, it undermines a framework that has been established for decades, and that has enabled peace, stability, and development across the Indo-Pacific.”

Taiwan has lost seven diplomatic partners in the past three years during Tsai Ing-wen’s presidency, leaving it with 15 formal allies as it prepares for a presidential election in January. Beijing – which claims sovereignty over the self-ruled island and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it into its fold – has tried to squeeze Taiwan’s space on the international stage.

While Washington officially recognises Beijing, the US maintains a mutual defence treaty with Taiwan and has sold arms to the island. Last year, Trump also signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows and encourages exchanges between high-level officials from the US and Taiwan.

On Thursday, Oudkirk said the US needed to safeguard its long-standing relationships with the Freely Associated States – the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau – amid growing competition from China, Russia, and others in the region.

“China’s engagement is still growing,” Oudkirk said. “Against this backdrop of growing competition, there is uncertainty across the Pacific about the United States’ willingness and ability to sustain the robust bilateral presence that has contributed to peace, stability, and prosperity across the region.”
She said the US would seek to strengthen its relationships with the Freely Associated States, with an inter-agency team travelling to all three countries in October, she said.

As part of this effort, Mike Pompeo visited Micronesia in August in the first trip to the federation by a US secretary of state.

Also at the hearing on Thursday, Randall Schriver, US assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said Beijing used “coercive tools” to pressure Taiwan’s diplomatic partners, including a ban on Chinese tourists visiting Palau in 2018.

Schriver said the US strategy in the Pacific involved building a “more lethal force”, including its US$2 billion investment at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for space and missile defence research, as well as strengthening American alliances in the region and streamlining the State Department to better counter China’s dual-use technological advancements.

“We stand together with these important allies, and will sustain US security guarantees,” he said. “The importance of these efforts is growing, as we are increasingly confronted with a more assertive and confident China that is willing to accept friction in the pursuit of its interests.”

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