U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the State Department is not changing its Taiwan policy amid calls to depart from a long-standing strategic ambiguity in the Taiwan Strait.
The top U.S. diplomat’s remarks come as some American experts and Taiwan’s envoy to the U.S., Bi-khim Hsiao, call for more clarity on America’s commitment to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, making explicit that the U.S. would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan.
In response to a question posed by VOA during a press conference, Pompeo said the U.S. policy toward Taiwan “hasn’t changed” and that Washington hopes “the Chinese Communist Party will choose to honor its commitments” to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
"The United States does not seek any sort of military confrontation in Asia,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told VOA on Wednesday, urging China to refrain from aggressive behaviors and honor the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region.
"We have seen this pattern of coercion and intimidation in the Chinese Communist Party's foreign policy and, by the way, in which their military conducts themselves,” Ortagus said.
Taiwan and China have been separately ruled since a civil war in the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost to Mao Zedong’s Communists and rebased on the island. China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has not ruled out the use of force, if needed, to unite the two sides.
The U.S. said its long-held “One China” policy is "distinct" from Beijing’s “One China” principle, under which the CCP asserts sovereignty over Taiwan. The U.S. never accepted or endorsed CCP’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan.
The U.S. and Taiwan enjoy a robust unofficial relationship. The 1979 U.S.-China Joint Communique switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The relations between the U.S. and Taiwan have been governed by the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in April 1979, under which the U.S. provides defense equipment to Taiwan.
“Taiwan needs to start looking at some asymmetric and anti-access area denial strategies,” White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told an online Aspen Institute forum last week. “And really fortify itself in a manner that would deter the Chinese from any sort of amphibious invasion or even a gray zone operation against them.”
For decades, the U.S. has been purposely ambiguous on whether it would intervene if China attacked Taiwan. Washington believes ambiguity not only keeps China guessing but also stops Taiwan from making potentially provocative moves.
But amid soaring CCP threats against Taiwan, some leading foreign policy experts, including Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues the U.S. ought to move from a policy of strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity to deter a Chinese move against Taiwan.
Here is the exchange in @ForeignAffairs in which we respond to 3 critics of our recent piece that argues the United States ought to move from a policy of strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity as the best means to deter a Chinese move vs. Taiwan. https://t.co/jFna7huJfl— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) September 24, 2020
“The purpose of strategic clarity is to avoid a conflict in the Taiwan Strait,” Haass said, because China’s coercive tactics and military buildup are eroding deterrence in the region.
In Washington, others said while the U.S. should signal credibly that China would pay a heavy price for invading Taiwan, the U.S. cannot make its willingness to defend Taiwan unconditional.
“If the United States extends an unqualified security commitment to Taiwan today, without the ability to make its threats credible, China could respond by mounting an attack,” wrote Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an article recently published by Foreign Affairs.
Glaser added the U.S. should reserve the latitude to judge whether Taipei’s policies are consistent with U.S. interests, and with the region’s peace and security.
In Beijing, the government has long rejected in principle any foreign interference on Taiwan-related issues. Chinese officials have been urging the U.S. to end security ties with Taiwan.
In a recent briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian demanded the U.S. “abide the ‘One China’ principle and provisions of the three China-U.S. joint communiqués, immediately cancel any plan for arms sales to Taiwan, stop selling arms to Taiwan, and sever its military ties with the island."
"China will make a legitimate and necessary response in light of the development of the situation," Zhao said Oct. 13.