By Courtney Donovan Smith
U.S. and Taiwan Discuss Bilateral Relations
Though Taiwan was disappointed by the delay of an expected visit by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she tested positive for COVID-19, other visits and meetings between Taiwan and the U.S. underscored the importance of the bilateral relationship as concerns grew that China might increase threats to Taiwan’s security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to a Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) poll, the percentage of Taiwanese expressing confidence that the U.S. would send troops to defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion plunged to 36.3% in April, a significant drop from 65% last October.
On April 14, a bipartisan delegation of six U.S. lawmakers led by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham arrived for a two-day visit that included meetings with President Tsai Ing-wen and the defense and foreign ministers. Graham was quoted as saying, “You’re a peaceful partner to the United States – you do business with the world to the rule of law. To abandon Taiwan would be to abandon freedom itself; America is not going to abandon freedom.” Another delegation member, Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said the high-profile group’s presence in Taiwan “is a testament to the importance of Taiwan.” The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held military drills while the delegation was in Taiwan, calling the visit a “deliberate provocation.”
On the economic side, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met virtually with Taiwan Minister without Portfolio John Deng to review the progress of bilateral trade issues since the parties held their 11th Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council meeting last June. Both sides were mum on whether Taiwan’s ambitions to join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) were discussed. Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia Rick Waters stated that Taiwan and the U.S. would strengthen supply chain resilience in response to the Chinese economic threat.
U.S. Military Increases Support for Taiwan
The U.S. increased overt military support for Taiwan in April. A Ministry of National Defense (MND) official confirmed that the U.S. had sent military instructors to Taiwan to train local troops in operating the M1A2T Abrams tank. A training ground is being set up in Hsinchu County. In addition, it was confirmed that 84 Taiwanese soldiers will be sent to the U.S. to undergo tank training next year, while a U.S. military Facebook page showed Taiwan military personnel already training in the U.S. A local military source also told the Central News Agency that Taiwanese noncommissioned officers will be sent to the U.S. later this year to observe training to bolster joint operations.
Further, the U.S. approved the sale of up to US$95 million in training and equipment to support Taiwan’s Patriot missile defense system and Taiwan announced an increase in its military budget to cover the acquisition of TOW 2B anti-tank missiles. However, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed concern that pandemic-related supply chain issues have caused a delay in the U.S. delivery of US$14.2 billion worth of military equipment that Taiwan has purchased since 2019, including F-16 fighter jets and components for the Patriot missile system.
China Releases Jailed Pro-Democracy Activist
Taiwanese pro-democracy activist Lee Ming-che was released by Chinese authorities and returned to Taiwan on April 15 after serving a five-year prison term on charges of “subverting state power.” Upon returning, Lee entered quarantine for 10 days.
Lee was arrested after entering China from Macau in 2017. He had been promoting the ideals of democracy to Chinese citizen online and at times in person, which led him to be the target of China’s first criminal prosecution of a nonprofit worker since Beijing passed a law tightening controls over foreign nongovernmental organizations in 2016.
Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu, had campaigned tirelessly to get him released, with visits to China, the U.S., and other countries. The couple credited her U.S. visits to meet White House officials and testify before Congress with having some positive impact, saying in a statement: “That Lee Ming-che could safely return to Taiwan and was spared the worst abuses while imprisoned have to do, in great measure, with the U.S.’ implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act, proving that it is not empty rhetoric, but a most precious foundation of Taiwan-U.S. relations.”