The Trump administration’s move to include Taiwan on a list of “countries” in a US Department of Defence report is the latest in a series of provocative moves that appear aimed at confronting China, and putting it on notice.
” released on Saturday. The language is part of a section detailing US efforts to strengthen partnerships with democracies in the region; the section cites Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand and Mongolia.
“All four countries contribute to US missions around the world and are actively taking steps to uphold a free and open international order,” the report says, citing the four “countries” as “reliable, capable and natural partners”.
The defence department did not respond to questions about its use of language, any intended purpose or message, although a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday that Taiwan was under growing threat from Beijing.
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Analysts said the use of “countries” is the latest salvo by the Trump administration as the US and China face off over trade, security, education, visas, technology and competing visions of “civilisation”. Past references to Taiwan as a nation have tended to involve misstatements by US officials rather than wording in a well-edited report, they added.
In an introductory message to the “Indo-Pacific Strategy Report”, acting secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan appeared to stir the waters further by pointedly identifying the Chinese Communist Party as the architect of a vision for “repressive world order”.
This contrasts with past, more diplomatic references to the Chinese government rather than the ruling party. These competing visions, the report adds, are a primary concern for US national security.
“The People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, seeks to reorder the region to its advantage” by leveraging military modernisation, influence operations and “predatory economics” to coerce other nations, Shanahan wrote.
In a presentation on Thursday in the Hart Senate Office Building, the assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, Randall Schriver, did not address the report’s “countries” language or a Reuters report that the defence department was pursuing US$2 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan.
But more generally, he said: “What we see is a growing threat to Taiwan,” adding, “We take our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act very seriously.”
Washington has maintained what has been called “strategic ambiguity” in juggling US-Taiwan-China relations since it normalised ties with Beijing in 1979.
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It has avoided mention of the island as a nation and operated diplomatic relations out of an “institute” in Taipei even as it has pledged to continue commercial, cultural and military support for Taiwan under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
However, as the US and China have escalated their tit-for-tat trade war by imposing hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs and levelling restrictions on each other’s companies, US President Donald Trump and his administration have appeared increasingly willing to needle Beijing.
This coincides with growing bipartisan support for a harder line toward China and improved ties with Taiwan, mirrored in Beijing by a host of anti-American articles, films and official statements in state-controlled media.