Taiwan Government and International – October 2020

Photo: Office of the President

U.S. Official Krach Makes Brief Visit

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith J. Krach made a brief visit to Taiwan from September 17 to 19. While Krach is the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since the U.S. cut official ties with the island in 1979, his trip was decidedly more low-key than the much-publicized visit of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in August. The official purpose of Krach’s visit was to attend a memorial service for the late former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui.

While in Taiwan, Krach held a closed-door meeting with Vice Premier Shen Jong-chin and Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua and attended a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential residence. Also in attendance at the dinner was Morris Chang, the founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC).

Somaliland Office Opens in Taipei

Somaliland on September 9 opened its representative office in Taiwan, the newest development in strengthening unofficial ties between the two countries. At an inauguration ceremony held in Taipei, Somaliland’s representative to Taiwan, Mohamed Omar Hagi Mohamoud, stated that the relationship formed between Taiwan and Somaliland this year is “based on common values of freedom and democracy.”

Somaliland is a de facto sovereign territory in the Horn of Africa that declared independence from Somalia during a civil war in 1991. Somalia still lays claim to Somaliland as part of its territory, and has denounced the establishment of the representative office as a “reckless attempt” to undermine its sovereignty. China, too, criticized the move as “desperate” and promoting “separatism.”

Taiwan, Paraguay Sign Letter of Intent

Taiwan and Paraguay signed a letter of intent on September 25 to promote technical cooperation between the two countries. The LOI signing took place at the 20th Republic of China-Paraguay Economic Cooperation Conference, co-chaired by Taiwan’s Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua and Paraguayan Minister of Industry and Commerce Liz Cramer. In a statement, the Ministry noted that the LOI is aimed at fostering mutual assistance and cooperation in the areas of standardization, metrology, and conformity assessment.

Paraguay is Taiwan’s last remaining official ally on the South American continent, and despite market disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wang said that trade between the two sides has continued to flourish. Paraguay is the second largest source of beef imports to Taiwan, and Wang promised to continue to promote Paraguay’s agricultural products through upcoming trade fairs in Taiwan.

China Ramps Up Drills in Strait

Undersecretary of State Keith Krach’s visit to Taiwan was marked by increased saber-rattling and military intimidation by China. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force flew 18 military aircraft over the median line of the Taiwan Strait on September 18, then 19 more aircraft the following day. The drills were part of what China’s defense ministry spokesman described as a “legitimate and necessary action taken in response to the current situation across the Taiwan Strait to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In response, Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighter jets and deployed its air defense missile system, actions that are becoming ever more frequent as China increasingly puts pressure on the island by repeatedly breaching its air defense identification zone. Adding further strain to the already fraught cross-Strait relationship, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on September 21 made a statement denying the existence of the median line, arguing that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.

Both the Taiwan and U.S. governments have criticized China’s recent maneuvers in Taiwan’s airspace as a danger to cross-Strait peace and stability. A Pentagon official said that the September 18 incursion is another example of how China is using its military as a tool of coercion against Taiwan. President Tsai, in a speech given at an air force base in the offshore islands of Penghu, pledged to defend Taiwan’s airspace, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu said in a press release that Wang’s statement would undermine the cross-Strait status quo.

Bird Group Expelled in Row Over Politics

Taiwan’s largest bird conservation organization was expelled from the UK-based BirdLife International in September for refusing to sign a document pledging not to advocate for the legitimacy of the Republic of China or promote Taiwanese independence. The Taiwan Wild Bird Federation (TWBF), formerly known as the Chinese Wild Bird Federation, said its reason for not signing the document was that it was unnecessary and inappropriate for an apolitical organization. 

In a statement released shortly after its expulsion from BirdLife, the TWBF cited letters dating back to December 2019 to demonstrate that it had maintained an apolitical stance in negotiating with the international organization. BirdLife reportedly had also taken issue with the group’s Chinese name, which contains Taiwan’s official designation, the Republic of China, and consistently urged the TWBF to change it. While the TWBF moved to replace the word “Chinese” in its English name with “Taiwan” after its status in BirdLife was revoked, the group’s Chinese name remains unchanged.

KMT Pulls Out of Straits Forum

The KMT announced on September 14 that it would not be attending this year’s Straits Forum, an annual conference normally held in Xiamen in China’s southern Fujian Province. The party had earlier in the month signaled its intention to join the forum, which is ostensibly non-political in nature and intended to promote economic and trade exchanges and cultural integration. Former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng had been tapped to lead the delegation.

However, after the headline on a China Central Television Program said the purpose behind the KMT’s attendance at the forum was to “sue for peace” in the Taiwan Strait, the KMT announced that it would not participate in the event as a political party, though it would still allow individual members to attend in a private capacity.

Since becoming Taiwan’s main opposition party in 2016, the KMT has tried to frame itself as the only party capable of maintaining peaceful, prosperous cross-Strait relations. To that end, it has continued to send individuals and delegations to China for meetings and events, despite a growing public sentiment that becoming closer with the PRC is not in Taiwan’s best interests.

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