By Austin Babb and Jason Wu
Guidelines, Visit Show Improving U.S. Ties
U.S.-Taiwan relations are showing further signs of strengthening as Washington continues to make overt gestures of support for Taiwan. The U.S. Department of State recently released an update to guidelines regarding interactions between American diplomats and their Taiwan counterparts. In a short press statement, the State Department highlighted Taiwan as a “vibrant democracy and an important security and economic partner,” and said that the new guidelines “liberalize guidance on contacts with Taiwan.” Taiwan’s representative to the U.S. Hsiao Bi-khim and other Taiwanese officials and politicians took to Twitter to welcome the State Department’s decision.
Days later, an unofficial delegation led by former U.S. senator Chris Dodd arrived in Taiwan to express President Biden’s support for the island. The delegates, who also included former Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg, as well as the State Department’s Office of Taiwan Coordination Director Dan Biers, met with senior Taiwanese officials – including President Tsai – and affirmed the U.S.’s commitment to Taiwan’s self-defense. At the meeting with Tsai, Dodd also brought up the new State Department guidelines, noting that the updates will “explicitly and enthusiastically” encourage visits by U.S. and Taiwan government officials.
The delegation also met with six members of the Legislative Yuan’s USA Caucus, which is composed of legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), a third party formed by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je. During the meeting, delegates asked KMT lawmakers to discuss their interpretation of the 1992 consensus – the vague formulation in which both sides of the Taiwan Strait agree that there is “one China.” It is a central component of the KMT’s cross-Strait policy. KMT legislator Chiang Wan-an later told reporters that he had responded by clarifying that the consensus does not mean “one country, two systems.” He referred to the consensus as a historical fact that has contributed to stable cross-Strait relations, but said the party is currently discussing how to revise it to better suit the current situation.
Taiwan Major Topic in Biden-Suga Summit
Taiwan currently finds itself caught in the middle of the U.S.-China political rivalry. On April 16, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House for a bilateral summit, during which they discussed a range of regional and global issues. Following the meeting, Biden and Suga issued a joint statement expressing concern regarding China’s coercive actions toward its neighbors – including Taiwan – and asserting that such actions threaten regional peace and stability. It was the first time the two allies had specifically referred to Taiwan in an official statement since 1969. “Our government is happy to see that the United States and Japan are concerned about the current situation of regional security,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Prior to the summit, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi and asked him to stop Japan from “heading in the wrong direction” by interfering with “China’s domestic affairs.” In a videoconference with a U.S. think tank on April 24, Wang also warned that playing the “Taiwan card” is “playing with fire.”
Taiwan Protests Japan Wastewater Decision
The Taiwanese government has expressed concern regarding Japan’s decision to begin releasing more than one million metric tons of radioactive wastewater from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean in 2023. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Spokesperson Joanne Ou said during a press conference on April 15 that Taiwan has lodged a “solemn representation” concerning the Japanese decision. Ou added that Japan should consider the interests of Taiwan’s people and inform Taiwan of any changes in accordance with a 2014 bilateral memorandum on nuclear and radiation safety. According to the MOFA, Taiwan is paying close attention to the matter. In addition, Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council has announced that it will allocate more than NT$500 million (US$17.77 million) to monitor the waters around Taiwan.
Taiwanese envoy to Japan Frank Hsieh’s reluctance to condemn Japan’s decision sparked outrage among activist groups and politicians in Taiwan. Hsieh’s comments on Facebook were perceived by many as a defense of the wastewater plan. The KMT criticized the Tsai government for being “too soft” on Japan and urged that Hsieh be recalled for spreading misinformation.
Taiwanese civic groups, including the National Nuclear Abolition Action Platform (NNAAP) and anti-nuclear activists, voiced much stronger opposition to Tokyo’s decision. The NNAAP warned of potential environmental contamination from the released radioactive water while Japanese civic groups also condemned the government for making its decision without thorough consideration of other non-threatening options. The Japanese government, for its part, has said that the water will be released over several decades after being treated and diluted.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant was disabled by hydrogen explosions caused by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The wastewater in question is said to contain Plutonium-239, tritium, and more than 50 other radionuclides. Environmental groups have argued that these radiation-emitting elements can pose severe health risks and damage human DNA.
Chiang Calls for KMT-CCP Talks
In late March, KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang announced that the party had updated its stance regarding the “1992 consensus” to place greater emphasis on the Republic of China (ROC) as a political entity. Noting that the new approach is intended to encourage cross-Strait dialogue, exchanges, coordination, and problem-solving, Chiang called for talks between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Given the KMT’s generally more conciliatory approach to cross-Strait relations, many Taiwanese have tended to view the party as being pro-CCP. The prominent role of pro-unification hardliners within the KMT’s ranks has added to that perception. Chiang, a moderate who was expected to be a reforming presence when elected chairman last year, noted that the only way for the KMT to regain public trust is to focus on the spirit of the ROC Constitution when discussing cross-Strait matters. Such an approach, he said, would emphasize Taiwanese values, such as human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, dignity, and security.
Responding to Chiang’s announcement, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian said that China would oppose any arrangement that “highlights divisions” between Taiwan and China, and that the KMT should not do anything to change the 1992 consensus.
Alleged Spies Indicted for Money Laundering
Xiang Xin, CEO of Hong Kong-registered company China Innovation Investment Ltd., and his wife, alternate board member Kung Ching, were indicted in early April on charges of money laundering. Xiang was accused by self-professed former Chinese spy William Wang Liqiang in late 2019 of being a Chinese intelligence officer who directed espionage activities in Taiwan and Hong Kong. After Wang’s accusations surfaced in November 2019, Xiang and Kung were stopped at the Taoyuan International Airport while trying to flee Taiwan.
Prosecutors say that the couple had illicitly transferred around NT$740 million (approximately US$26 million), most of it coming from a Shanghai-based company that was dissolved after a Chinese court in 2018 found it to have engaged in illegal activities. Xiang and Kung are alleged to have helped the company launder money in Taiwan.