Pentagon’s top Chinese official visits Taiwan amid rising bilateral tensions
The Pentagon’s top Chinese official is set to visit Taiwan in the coming days, a rare trip by a senior US defense official to the island as relations between Washington and Beijing have soured over a suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down two weeks ago encountered a crisis.
Michael Chase, deputy deputy secretary of defense for China, will travel to Taiwan in the coming days, according to four people familiar with his trip. He is currently in Mongolia for talks with the country’s military.
Chase would be the first senior defense official to visit Taiwan since Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia Heino Klinck left in 2019. At the time, he was the highest-ranking Pentagon official to visit the island in four decades.
The visit comes as US-China relations have fallen to a new low after the Chinese military flew a large balloon over North America for eight days until an F-22 shot it down off the coast of South Carolina.
China says the balloon was a civilian vehicle conducting meteorological research, but the US insists it was used to monitor sensitive military sites, including nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile silos in Montana.
President Joe Biden said Thursday he plans to speak with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to “get to the bottom of” the balloon incident, which has sparked calls in Congress for an even tougher U.S. stance on Beijing.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the trip to Taiwan. But she stressed that “US support for Taiwan and defense relations with Taiwan remain focused on the current threat from the People’s Republic of China.”
“Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and helps maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and the region,” added Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Martin Meiners.
The planned visit comes at a sensitive time in Washington-Beijing relations. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is attempting to meet Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy leader, at the Munich Security Conference this weekend. But two people familiar with the talks said Wang has not yet agreed to such a meeting. The State Department declined to comment.
Three weeks ago, Blinken canceled a planned trip to China at short notice because of the balloon accident. He had an appointment with Xi.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing also remain high over Taiwan. A senior US Air Force general recently said he believes the US and China are likely to go to war over Taiwan in 2025. The Pentagon moved quickly and said its comments did not reflect the official view.
Beijing refuses visits by US officials or lawmakers to Taipei. Last August, the Chinese military held large-scale military exercises, including flying ballistic missiles over Taiwan, after Nancy Pelosi became the first speaker of the US House of Representatives to visit the island in 25 years.
Beijing argues that visits to Taiwan, over which it claims sovereignty, dilute Washington’s “one China” policy. Under the policy, which has been in place since US-China relations began in 1979, Washington recognizes Beijing as China’s sole government and acknowledges the Chinese view that Taiwan is part of China without endorsing it.
While the Biden administration has avoided openly alienating China with official visits, at least one senior military official has visited Taiwan.
Last year, the Financial Times reported that Admiral Michael Studeman, then the top intelligence officer for the Indo-Pacific Command, was visiting Taipei. His trip took place around the time Chinese and Russian strategic bombers were flying a joint mission over the Sea of Japan while Biden was on a trip to Tokyo.
Biden administration insists US policy on Taiwan has not changed. But the president has said four times the US military would intervene if China were to attack Taiwan.
His comments appeared to alter the long-standing US policy of “strategic ambiguity,” under which Washington refuses to say whether it would intervene in a conflict. It should reduce the likelihood of Taiwan declaring independence – which would almost certainly trigger a Chinese attack – and make Beijing think twice about military action against the country.
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https://www.ft.com/content/b6b4a624-212b-408b-8cdf-82118ed1da26 Pentagon’s top Chinese official visits Taiwan amid rising bilateral tensions