Only the second time in four decades that a high-ranking US defense official has visited an island is a rare visitIn the next few days, the Pentagon’s top China official will visit Taiwan. This rare visit by a senior US defense policymaker comes at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing have been in crisis due to a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down two weeks ago.
According to four people who are familiar with the trip, Michael Chase, deputy assistant secretary for defense for China, will travel to Taiwan in coming days. For talks with Mongolia’s military, he is currently in Mongolia.
Chase will be Taiwan’s first high-ranking defense official since Heino Klinck (deputy assistant secretary for east Asia) visited the island in 2019. He was at the time the highest ranking Pentagon official to visit Taiwan in over 40 years.
The anticipated visit is coming as US-China relations are at a low point after the Chinese military flew large balloons over North America for eight consecutive days before an F-22 shot them down off South Carolina.
China claims the balloon was a civilian craft for meteorological research. However, the US insists that it was used to monitor sensitive military sites such as the Montana nuclear intercontinental missile silos.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden stated that he would talk to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to “get the bottom” about the balloon incident. This has prompted calls from Congress to make the US stand firm against Beijing.
The Pentagon declined comment to the Pentagon about the trip to Taiwan. However, the Pentagon stressed that the US’s “support for Taiwan and defense relationship with Taiwan remain aligned against current threats posed by China’s People’s Republic of China”.
“Our commitment is solid to Taiwan and contributes to peace and stability throughout the Taiwan Strait” said Lieutenant Colonel Martin Meiners, spokesperson for the Pentagon.
This visit is planned at a delicate moment in Washington-Beijing relations. Antony Blinken, US secretary of State, is trying to meet Wang Yi at the Munich security conference. Two people familiar with the talks claimed that Wang has not yet agreed to a meeting. The state department declined comment.
Blinken had cancelled his trip to China three weeks ago due to the balloon incident. He was scheduled to meet Xi.
Tensions remain high between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan. Recently, a top American Air Force General stated that he believes the US and China will likely go to war in 2025 over Taiwan. The Pentagon quickly responded to deny that his remarks were representative of the official position.
Beijing is against US lawmakers and officials visiting Taipei. After Nancy Pelosi became first Speaker of the US House of Representatives in 25 years, she visited Taiwan last August. She held large-scale military drills, including the firing of ballistic missiles above Taiwan.
Beijing claims that Washington’s “one China policy” is diluted by its visits to Taiwan, which it claims sovereignty over. The policy was in effect since 1979 when the US and China established relations. It recognizes Beijing as China’s sole government and recognizes without approving the Chinese view of Taiwan as part of China.
Although the Biden administration has not explicitly antagonised China through official visits, at most one military officer has been to Taiwan. Admiral Michael Studeman was the Indo-Pacific Command’s top intelligence officer. He visited Taipei at the same time Chinese strategic bombers flew an inter-mission over the Sea of Japan, while Biden was in Tokyo.
Biden’s administration insists that the US has not changed its policy toward Taiwan. The president has said four times that the US would intervene in the event of an attack by China on Taiwan.
His comments appeared to change the US policy of “strategic uncertainty,” under which Washington refuses to declare whether it will intervene in a conflict. It was intended to make Taiwan less likely than China to declare independence, which would almost certainly cause a Chinese attack. However, it also made Beijing reconsider any military action against Taiwan.