The People’s Republic of China (hereafter referred to as China) has increasingly intensified its diplomatic squeeze on the Republic of China (Taiwan) since Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen came into office in 2016.
In less than three years, five countries — Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, and El Salvador — have cut ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China. Taiwan is left with only 17 diplomatic allies now. Meanwhile, several of its remaining allies, such as eSwatini and the Vatican are also actively improving relations with China.
Faced with China’s pressure, Tsai has repeatedly urged the rest of the world to unite with Taiwan in defending against China and to protect shared liberal values.
Last month, Tsai also made a high-profile stopover in the United States, where she called on the world, particularly the Unites States, to stand up for Taiwan, since “protecting Taiwan is to protect freedom and democratic values.”
Against that backdrop, the United States — which maintains a unique security partnership with Taiwan, but without mutual diplomatic ties — has given multiple signals recently that it is going to respond to Tsai’s request.
The most recent signal is that the United States has recalled diplomats in three nations that recently switched allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.
On September 7, the U.S. State Department announced that its top envoys to the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Panama had been called back due to those countries’ “recent decisions to no longer recognize Taiwan.”
“Our three Chiefs of Mission will meet with U.S. Government leaders to discuss ways in which the United States can support strong, independent, democratic institutions and economies throughout Central America and the Caribbean,” the announcement said.
The Department of State’s decision, although quite unexpected, is fully in line with the White House’s recent strong remarks.
On August 21 — days after Tsai wrapped up her high-profile stopover in the U.S. city of Houston — El Salvador announced that it had established diplomatic ties China and ended its relationship Taiwan.
Two days later, the White House issued an unusually strong statement slamming both El Salvador and China. The statement claimed that El Salvador’s decision to switch allegiance from Taipei to Beijing “is of grave concern to the United States, and will result in a re-evaluation” of the U.S. relationship with El Salvador.
The White House further warned other countries that are seeking to establish or expand relations with China that these countries “may be disappointed over the long run,” since “China’s economic inducements facilitate economic dependency and domination, not partnership.”
“The United States will continue to oppose China’s destabilization of the cross-Strait relationship and political interference in the Western Hemisphere,” the statement emphasized.
Washington’s latest decision to recall diplomats from the three countries “in the Western Hemisphere” is another warning message sent not only to those specific countries but to China and to the rest of the world.
In fact, on September 5, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators had introduced a bill, titled the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, in order to punish Taiwan’s diplomatic allies who switch sides.
Introduced by Republican Senators Cory Gardner and Marco Rubio, and Democrats Ed Markey and Bob Menendez, the bill aims to “strengthen Taiwan’s standing around the world and comes in response to several nations breaking official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, due to Chinese pressure and bullying tactics,” according to the press release issued on Gardner’s official website.
The bill authorizes the State Department to “downgrade U.S. relations with any government that takes adverse actions with regard to Taiwan, and authorizes the State Department to suspend or alter U.S. foreign assistance, including foreign military financing, to governments that take adverse actions with regard to Taiwan.”
“The United States will use every tool to support Taiwan’s standing on the international stage,” said Gardner in the press release.
The latest developments seem to show that the U.S. government and its bipartisan legislation have gradually reached a general consensus on the U.S. stance: Washington is set to actively stand up for Taipei against Beijing.