Home News Outgoing U.S. envoy urges calm as China pressure on Taiwan intensifies

Outgoing U.S. envoy urges calm as China pressure on Taiwan intensifies


As her three-year tenure as the top U.S. representative to Taiwan draws to a close, Sandra Oudkirk offers some parting advice: Don’t panic about China’s bellicose rhetoric and actions, but don’t become numb to the risks either.

Ms. Oudkirk is serving as Washington’s de facto ambassador to Taiwan at a time when the democratic island has become a focal point of tensions between Washington and Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its territory that must be reunited with it, and will use force if leaders in Beijing deem it necessary.

There have been occasional tensions in the debate between Taiwanese and American politicians, officials and experts over what combination of strategies — which military purchases, which soothing or tough statements toward Beijing, which steps with other democracies — would best reduce the risk of war.

Ms Ouderkirk, who will leave her post in Taipei early next month, said Taiwan and its partners needed to find a stable path and avoid hysteria and complacency.

“We’re often asked how dangerous Taiwan is — you know, Taiwan is the most dangerous place in the world,” she said of an impending crisis or war. “Sometimes the rhetoric doesn’t fully reflect reality.”

But she added, referring to China: “When a government, a country, a leader tells you what they are thinking, what they are planning, you should listen to what they are saying.”

After decades of haranguing from Beijing, many Taiwanese don’t care. Chinese military exercises and airspace incursions have escalated but still rarely cause public alarm. Most Taiwanese They also said they believed the United States would intervene if China did threaten an invasion.

But that view is not universally held among Taiwanese politicians and voters, some of whom are skeptical of the United States’ dedication and intentions.

USA promise Enact laws to help Taiwan defend itself and give it the option to send in U.S. troops if China attempts to take over Taiwan by force. Some U.S. commanders and experts say an invasion of Taiwan is imminent: A few years ago Someone mentioned 2027 as a potential date for Chinese military action. But Biden Government officials said They believe Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not given a clear deadline.

Even so, both before and during Ms. Oudkirk’s tenure as top U.S. representative to Taiwan, China increased its pressure on the island, which lies about 100 miles from Taiwan’s coast.

She was initially assigned to Taiwan as a consular officer 1992Taiwan had just emerged from decades of martial law, and China was far less wealthy and well-equipped than Taiwan. She was later posted to Dublin, Istanbul and Beijing.

Ms. Oudkirk Become a de facto ambassador Military exercises are likely to take place in Taiwan in mid-2021. A few months later, Russia invaded Ukraine, deepening Taiwanese concerns that China might gamble on a similar armed takeover. In August 2022, the Chinese military held The most extensive practice Once in Taiwan Beijing calls it revenge After then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.

The winner of Taiwan’s presidential election this year was Lai Ching-te, whom Beijing dislikes, which led to another round of Chinese military exercises near Taiwan and a strong rebuke from Beijing after his inauguration in May. Chinese officials openly expressed strong skepticism when Lai said at the time that he wanted to maintain Taiwan’s status quo — self-rule but without formally declaring independence.

“His May 20 speech was a naked declaration of ‘Taiwan independence’ from beginning to end,” said Lieutenant General He Lei, former vice president of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, in an interview during a recent visit to Singapore for a conference. “Now he is going deeper and deeper on the road of ‘Taiwan independence’, which will only bring greater danger to the Taiwan Strait.”

In response to China’s warnings and growing power, Taiwan and Washington have stepped up cooperation, with the U.S. mission on a hillside northeast of Taipei a steel-and-concrete symbol of that relationship.

Its official name, the American Institute in Taiwan, sounds more like a language school than a diplomatic mission. The vague name was a concession to Washington’s severance of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, when it recognized the island as Beijing’s.

The American Institute, which for years has been based in a crowded office in central Taipei with little official influence, strives to keep a low profile and has not regularly flown an American flag in decades.

That is no longer the case. The new institute building, completed in 2019, is massive and has 585 employees, up from 488 in 2019, according to the institute’s press office. The American flag is now mainstream Above the building.

“These are all examples of progress in U.S.-Taiwan relations,” Brent Curtinson, Ms. Okirk’s predecessor as director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said in an interview. He now teaches at Brigham Young University.

“A lot of this is guided by precedent,” Christensen said. “But the Trump administration doesn’t care too much about precedent, so this is a good time to go beyond some of the limits that we’ve imposed on ourselves.”

Ms. Oudkirk said that during her three years as director, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a particular turning point for Taiwan and for strengthening ties with the United States.

“Ukraine’s ability to resist a Russian invasion has obviously been very much in the local news, especially in 2022,” she said. “It has really generated a lot of public attention and debate about, ‘What does this mean for Taiwan?’”

Taiwan’s former president Tsai Ing-wen extended the length of military service for men to one year in 2022, higher than Three monthsTaiwan has also been ordering more mobile missiles and other flexible weapons to deter a Chinese attack.

“The level of strategic integration between Taiwan and the United States is the highest since diplomatic relations were severed in 1979,” said Kuo Yu-jen, a political science professor at National Sun Yat-sen University in southern Taiwan.

Not all Taiwanese welcome this growing embrace. Oudkirk’s years as a congressman coincided with what locals call “theI MeilunSkepticism of the United States is growing, especially among voters who believe Taiwan and Washington have needlessly irritated Beijing.

Oudkirk said distrust of the United States’ intentions or ability to support Taiwan partly reflects information operations by China to amplify doubts, but partly reflects the normal ebb and flow of disagreements among democracies.

She is often asked whether the upcoming US election will lead to a shift in US support, and here she remains diplomatic.

“Unlike almost every other foreign policy or domestic policy issue, there is broad bipartisan consensus on U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” she told reporters at a farewell press conference on Friday. “So I don’t think the election will necessarily change that.”

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