Taiwan’s Vice President Lai Ching-Te is expected to transit the US next month en route to Paraguay, the island’s presidential office announced at a news conference Monday.
The Biden administration expects the transit to occur “without incident,” a senior administration official said Sunday.
The transit comes as the Biden administration is working to regularize the pace of diplomacy with Beijing, with three top administration officials visiting China in the last month.
While any visit to the US by Taiwanese officials typically frustrates Beijing, the official said Taiwan is planning a “low-key” transit, although they did not say if Lai would meet US officials.
“These transits of senior officials are unofficial in keeping with our US One China policy,” the official said, calling the transits fairly common. “We’ve had 10 vice presidential transits in the last 20 years. All have occurred without incident.”
Under the “One China” policy, the US acknowledges China’s position that Taiwan is part of China, but has never officially recognized Beijing’s claim to the self-governing island of 23 million. The US provides Taiwan defensive weapons, but has remained intentionally ambiguous on whether it would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack.
A trip to the US by an official from Taiwan is referred to as a “transit” instead of a visit because the US does not have formal diplomatic relations with the government of Taiwan and the stop-over comes as part of an unofficial trip on the way to another destination.
Lai, in his role as vice president, is not expected to visit Washington.
“Lai’s transit will be private and unofficial,” the official said. He last transited the US in January 2022.
Lai, however, is notably not just a current official: the ruling Democratic Progressive Party nominated the vice president to be its 2024 presidential candidate. Candidates from other political parties may also visit the US later this year, but the senior administration official did not provide detail about future possible trips.
Taiwan lies fewer than 110 miles (177 kilometers) off the coast of China. For more than 70 years, the two sides have been governed separately, but that hasn’t stopped China’s ruling Communist Party from claiming the island as its own – despite having never controlled it.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning reacted to the news of the transit Monday in a news briefing. “China stands rock solid in opposing any ambush visit by ‘Taiwan separatist forces’ to the US. We oppose the US condoning and supporting the ‘Taiwan separatist forces’ and their separatist acts,” Mao said.
When Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen transited the US earlier this year and met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, China responded by conducting three days of military drills close to Taiwan. During the drills, multiple Chinese fighter jets crossed into the southeastern portion of the island’s air defense identification zone – a self-declared buffer that extends beyond the island’s airspace.
The announcement from Taiwan about Lai’s transit comes as the Biden administration’s climate envoy John Kerry is in Beijing. His trip follows visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
“We’ve been pretty clear both publicly and then behind closed doors with the Chinese as well that we hope and we urge that communication should continue even through periods where there may be tension,” the official said. “That is a critical part of managing competition about maintaining channels of communication and preventing this from veering into conflict.”
While the US is trying to mend relations with China, the Biden administration is also planning to provide Taiwan with additional security assistance in the form of a Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) military aid package, senior US officials have said, in which military equipment is taken directly from US stockpiles.
That package has been delayed by several months, however, in large part because of an accounting error that forced administration officials to retally the value of the equipment the US will be providing to Taiwan, multiple US officials told CNN.
The accounting error is similar to one the administration made for aid packages it provided to Ukraine under the PDA authority, officials said. In the Ukraine cases, military officials counted the value of replacing the weapon in US stocks instead of the value of the actual weapon being sent to Ukraine, leading the administration to overestimate the real monetary value of the aid packages.
A similar error was discovered several months ago with the Taiwan aid package, but multiple defense officials told CNN that it has already been resolved.
Asked by CNN about the PDA on Sunday, the senior administration official said they did not have a specific timeline to provide, but acknowledged it has taken “a bit longer than we would normally expect.”
“This is the first time we have done a Taiwan PDA,” the official said, “and it has taken a bit longer than we would normally expect, partially because of the reassessment of some of the costs associated with the PDA. That was not just a Taiwan issue, but of course the Ukraine one as well. But our expectation is that will soon have news on that.”
Source : CNN