In early July, two US aircraft quietly touched down on Taiwan carrying parcels for the de facto US embassy in Taipei. Beijing denounced the actions and others like them as “salami-slicing” tactics not worthy of starting a war over individually, but cumulatively becoming more strategically decisive.
A US senator has revealed that she and two other US lawmakers had to deceive the South Korean government in order to make their highly provocative flight into Taipei in June, which was the first time in four decades a US military aircraft touched down on Taiwan for official business.
On June 6, a lone US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo transport touched down at Songshan Airport in central Taipei carrying US Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). During their brief stay on the island, the trio announced the US was donating 750,000 of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines to the Taiwanese government.
The Chinese Ministry of National Defense loudly denounced the act as a “vile political provocation,” as Beijing considers Taiwan to be a Chinese province in rebellion. The government in Taipei is all that remains of the Republic of China, which was defeated on the mainland by the communist Red Army in 1949, which then founded the People’s Republic of China in Beijing.
Each government requires countries they have diplomatic relations with to reject the other government’s claims of legitimacy. The US switched its recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1978, while South Korea switched in 1992.
As a result, Duckworth told attendees of an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank on Tuesday that she and her fellow lawmakers had to sneak into Taiwan from South Korea.
“We got to South Korea and it was very much touch and go. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to get to Taiwan. There were no commercial flights. And the administration agreed with us and actually sent a military aircraft and flew us in from a military base in South Korea to a military – to Taiwan. And, in fact, we couldn’t even tell the South Koreans that we were going to Taiwan because they would – we would have placed them in a very difficult situation with the Chinese,” Duckworth said at the forum.
“So, we had to drive two hours to get to a military base, get on a military flight, go to Taiwan. We’re on the ground for just three hours. Never left the airport. Made the announcement, and that just turned everything around in the country in terms of the morale of the people and knowing that they were not being abandoned,” she continued.
“[I]t was well worth it because the people of Taiwan deserve to know that they were not – that America would not abandon them,” she later added.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, fourth from right, waves with U.S. senators to his right Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, members of the Armed Services Committee on their arrival at the Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on Sunday, June 6, 2021
The trio weren’t the only American political delegation to visit the island recently, however: in 2020, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and then-Under Secretary of State Keith Krach both visited the island. However, the lawmakers’ June trip was the first time a US military aircraft has landed there since official relations were cut in 1978.
Just 15 nations have retained their recognition of Taiwan into 2021, most of which are Central American, Caribbean, or Pacific Island nations under the heavy sway of Washington’s will.
The issue of Washington’s continued support for Taiwan, despite its official recognition of Beijing as the government of China, has become an increasingly sour point for US-China relations. Under the prior presidential administration of Donald Trump, the US dramatically expanded its weapons sales to the autonomous island, with the new Biden administration continuing that trend last week with a new $750 million proposed sale of self-propelled artillery.
China has denounced these sales and other actions, such as US warship transits of the Taiwan Strait separating the island from mainland China, as encouraging the separatist faction of the Taiwanese government, led by President Tsai Ing-wen. In turn, Beijing has stepped up its military patrols around the island with both aircraft and warships, demonstrating its ability to project power into the Philippine Sea using its new aircraft carrier.
“I am very much concerned that the PRC will attempt to take Taiwan,” Duckworth told the CSIS conference. “What we have to do is deter them from it.” “Once they start, it’s much harder to repel them from territory than it is to just let them know and let them make the calculus that it is far too costly for them to even attempt to try”.
Last month, she and a bipartisan group of 13 lawmakers from both the House and Senate introduced the Taiwan Partnership Act, which would increase training and cooperation between Taiwanese defense forces and the US National Guard.