A delegation of former senior United States defence and security officials appointed by President Joe Biden arrived in Taipei, in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The visit on Tuesday, led by the one-time chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, comes at a time when Taiwan has stepped up its alert level, wary of China taking advantage of a distracted world to move against it.
Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the trip showed “the importance both of the Taiwan-US relationship and Taiwan’s position” as well as the staunch US support for the island.
“It’s a very good thing,” he added.
China, which denounced the visit, claims the democratically governed island as its own and has pledged to bring it under Chinese control, by force if necessary.
“The will of the Chinese people to defend our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is immovable. Whoever United States sends to show support for Taiwan is bound to fail,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said of the visit.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now on its
sixth day, has drawn fresh attention to China’s threat to use force to annex self-governing democratic Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory.
Circumstances between Ukraine and Taiwan are very different, however.
Taiwan lies 160km (100 miles) across the Taiwan Strait from mainland China and enjoys strong support from the US, which is legally bound to ensure the island can defend itself and to treat all threats to it as matters of “grave concern”.
A warm welcome to the #US delegation led by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen. #Taiwan is committed to working with the #US & other like-minded partners to maintain peace & stability in the region. pic.twitter.com/3j2fFgP2La
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) March 1, 2022
China has not condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine and its criticism of sanctions levelled against Moscow is widely seen as a sign of commitment to the two countries’ mutual defiance of Washington and their Western allies, despite Beijing’s longstanding defence of the principle of national sovereignty.
Taiwan has said it will join “democratic countries” in sanctioning Russia, although its trade with the country is minimal. It is a major semiconductor producer and has said chip companies are complying with export controls to Russia.
Mullen, a retired navy admiral who served as the top US military officer under former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama, is being accompanied by Meghan O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security adviser under Bush, and Michele Flournoy, a former under-secretary of defence under Obama.
Two former National Security Council senior directors for Asia, Mike Green and Evan Medeiros, are also on the trip.
The group touched down in a private jet at Taipei’s downtown Songshan Airport and were received by Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
They will meet President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, the same day former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will also arrive, though he is coming separately and as a private citizen.
China has been sending military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on a near-daily basis, and on Saturday, its Defence Ministry protested as provocative the passage of the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson through the Taiwan Strait.
The strait is in international waters and the US Navy said the ship’s passage “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
China routinely protests against US contacts with Taiwan’s government and announced in November that its military conducted air and naval readiness patrols in the direction of the Taiwan Strait after five US lawmakers met Tsai on an unannounced one-day visit.
Biden has followed his predecessors in stepping up contacts between Taiwan and both serving and retired administration officials, along with selling it military equipment.