BEIJING Feb 23, 2018
As China ratchets up pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island it claims as its territory, the United States is cautiously starting to push back.
In recent months, Chinese strategic bombers have been conducting “island encirclement” flights, escorted by fighter jets. The Chinese government has discouraged tourism to Taiwan and imports of goods like fish over the past year and a half, hurting its economy. And China persuaded the island’s most important remaining diplomatic ally, Panama, to switch diplomatic recognition last summer from Taipei to Beijing.
Concern about Taiwan’s fate now appears to be building slowly in Washington, even as President Trump continues to seek China’s help on other issues. Through his first year in office, Mr. Trump pressed Beijing to put more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, with limited success. He has also sought to limit China’s nearly $400 billion trade surplus with the United States, which has nonetheless continued to widen.
Against that backdrop, Washington has recently begun moving gradually to reinforce its ties to Taiwan, a vigorous democracy facing an increasingly authoritarian government in Beijing.
Bills have been introduced in Congress to promote visits to Taiwan by warships and by civilian officials. A small gathering of defense contractors is planned for May to discuss Taiwan’s production of parts for weapons assembled in the United States. And in June, an American institute that functions as an informal diplomatic channel plans to open an elegant new complex in Taiwan’s capital.
“It looks like the Trump administration is playing the Taiwan card for whatever purpose — to put pressure or to seek concessions,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Chinese officials are showing signs of annoyance, and raising accusations that the United States is interfering in what Beijing considers one of its redline issues. “It is horrible that the present situation of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will probably be turbulent,” said a commentary earlier this month on Huaxia, a Beijing-controlled news service on Taiwan issues.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Forces Committee after Senator John McCain of Arizona, is in Taiwan this week, leading a large delegation of House and Senate committee members and staff.