Pompeo heads to Taiwan as rival US delegations display support amid China threat

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Taiwan’s government is juggling competing high-profile visits from the US in a busy week of diplomacy as Washington sends a delegation to democratically run Taipei just before a trip by former secretary of state Michael Pompeo.

President Tsai Ing-wen met a bipartisan group including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen and ex-undersecretary of defense for policy Michèle Flournoy in the Presidential Office on Wednesday, a US display of support amid growing pressure from an increasingly assertive China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Speaking at a press briefing attended by Mullen and the other members of his delegation, Tsai said the visit “demonstrates the importance the US places on our bilateral partnership and reflects our rock-solid ties.

“More importantly, your visit highlights Taiwan’s key role in regional and global security, and the need for the international democratic community to be even more united, said Tsai, in power since 2016.

Tsai will also host a dinner reception for the group on Wednesday evening at about the same time Pompeo lands on his visit in a private capacity at the invitation of a think tank. He is scheduled to meet Tsai and other political leaders, and give a speech at an event organized by the Prospect Foundation on Friday.

The trip by the group led by Mullen was arranged within a day or two of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Taipei-based Liberty Times reported, citing Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. It was also timed to overshadow Pompeo’s arrival and reinforce the message that he does not speak for Washington, the United Daily News said in a commentary.

Tsai last week dismissed concern over a crisis erupting in Asia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has long had security concerns similar to Taiwan. She did warn the island’s population of some 23 million to be wary of “external forces using fake information about the war in eastern Europe to sow panic about a possible threat.”

China, a country of 1.4 billion just 160 km (100 miles), away has been ramping up military threats against Taiwan during President Xi Jinping’s tenure, though officials in Taipei see the risk of an imminent attack as low given Beijing’s desire for stability before a major meeting of the ruling Communist Party this year and the current capabilities of the military. Still, People’s Liberation Army warplanes made some 960 forays into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone in 2021, more than double the previous year.

That pressure continued on February 24, the day of Russia’s invasion, when Taiwan detected nine Chinese military aircraft to its southwest. Two days later the US Navy sent a destroyer through the strip of water separating China and Taiwan.

China later lashed out at that ship’s passage, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin saying on Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that “if the US wants to embolden the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces in this way, then we have this to say to the US: such a move will only accelerate the demise of the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces. The US will also pay a heavy price for its adventurist act.

Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, sought to counter that type of rhetoric in remarks delivered Wednesday while meeting Tsai, saying that maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is in the interests of both the US and the rest of the world.

“I do hope that by being here with you, we can reassure you and your people, as well as our allies and partners in the region, that the United States stands firm behind its commitments.”

Read more: US stands firm behind commitment to Taiwan, delegation says

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