The United States plans to hold a new “air and maritime transit” in the Taiwan Strait in a step the White House says will express its response to China’s military drills in the contested strait amid rising tensions over the self-ruled island.
China carried out its largest-ever military drill around Taiwan, which Beijing sees as its territory, during a trip by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month.
Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for Asia-Pacific issues and adviser to President Joe Biden, noted that despite tensions, US forces “will continue to fly, sail and operate where international law allows, consistent with our longstanding commitment to freedom of navigation”.
“That includes conducting standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks,” he informed reporters.
Campbell did not confirm what kind of deployment would be made to assist the manoeuvres, stating that he had no “comments about either the nature of our crossings or the timings across the Taiwan Strait”.
He said Washington is set to declare an “ambitious roadmap” for deeper economic ties with Taiwan in the wake of tensions with China over the self-governed island.
Largest-ever military drills
Beijing conducted its largest-ever military drills around the self-ruled island in relation Pelosi’s trip. It has blamed the US of working against its official policy on China and Taiwan.
Taiwan has blamed China for using the visit by Pelosi, the highest-ranking elected American official to visit in decades, as an excuse to start drills that Taipei called a preparation for invasion.
China views the island as its own territory to be captured one day, by force if necessary.
Campbell said Pelosi’s visit was “consistent” with Washington’s existing policy and that China had “overreacted”.
Beijing used the pretext to “launch an intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan to try to change the status quo, jeopardizing peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region”, he said.
“China has overreacted and its actions continue to be provocative, destabilizing and unprecedented.”
In reaction to China’s drills, the US is acknowledging its involvement in the area, while emphasizing on its policy of “strategic ambiguity” – diplomatically recognizing China while simultaneously supporting the island’s self-rule.
Washington’s ‘one China’ policy
Andrew Leung, a China analyst, informed Al Jazeera that US actions on Taiwan are working against its official policy towards China in that the “one China” policy has been hollowed out over many years by the dispatching of senior US officials to the island.
Such a trip gives Taiwan increasing diplomatic space to assume an “almost independent role as if Taiwan was a separate country” from China, Leung said.
“The reality remains that most Taiwanese people do not support unification but nor do they dare to declare independence. They want to prolong the status quo forever.
“However, forever is not an option because President Xi has made it quite plain that 2049 is the absolute deadline for unification which is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China,” said Leung, referring to the island by its official name.
Island’s foreign ministry appreciated Washington for its “firm support” in a press release on Saturday that pointed to its “concrete action to maintain security in the Taiwan Strait and peace in the region”.
Berating China’s decision to stop cooperation with Washington on issues including the fight against climate change, Campbell said, “We have and will continue to keep lines of communication open with Beijing.”
The official said that Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have requested for his staff to arrange an in-person summit, but he refused to reply to reports that this could take place during the G20 meeting in Bali this November.
“We don’t have anything further in terms of details on time or location,” he said.