President Trump has enraged the Chinese Communist Party by signing legislation Thursday that will help American diplomats fight Beijing’s attempts to isolate Taiwan, a sign that antagonism between China and the United States continues to ramp up.
“We strongly urge the US to correct its mistake, refrain from implementing this act and obstructing other countries’ pursuit of relations with China,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday. “Otherwise, it will be met with resolute countermeasure from the Chinese side.”
Trump signed the bill into law on the very same evening that he had a phone call with Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Both sides touted the conversation as an olive branch after weeks of fighting over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Taiwan dispute suggests their dialogue was little more than a fig leaf for the intensifying rivalry between Washington and Beijing.
The signing took place following a new round of saber-rattling in the Pacific Ocean. An American guided-missile destroyer navigated the Straits of Taiwan on Wednesday, just days after the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet conducted live-fire drills in the Philippine Sea.
“The U.S. has never conducted missile drills in the South China Sea, and the drill that it conducted in the Philippine Sea near the South China Sea is meant to tell China that the U.S. is capable of dealing with any situation despite the coronavirus outbreak,” Su Tzu-yun, an analyst at a Taiwanese government think tank, told the South China Morning Post.
“The bill reflects the strength of #Taiwan–#US ties,” Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted Friday. “It also paves the way for expanded bilateral exchanges while preserving the country’s international space in the face of authoritarian #China‘s campaign of coercion.”
Taiwan is the last stronghold of the government overthrown in the 1949 Chinese Communist revolution. The mainland government in Beijing, which regards the island as a renegade province, has succeeded in pressuring eight countries to cut diplomatic ties with Taipei since 2016. The U.S. doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, yet the new legislation empowers the State Department to increase foreign aid to countries that establish an alliance with Taiwan and cut funding to countries that abandon the island government.
“It strengthens the United States’ hand to deter and punish other countries, particularly in South America, from flipping allegiance away from Taipei to Beijing,” former Australian Defense Ministry adviser Patrick Buchan, who directs the U.S. Alliances Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Examiner. “It is certainly another waypoint in the deterioration in the relationship between Beijing and Washington.”
Chinese Communist leaders are fuming. “The act will seriously disrupt China-U.S. relations and cooperation in major fields and will eventually hurt the interests of the United States,” the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress said Friday, per state-run media.
Yet American lawmakers, some of whom are even more openly supportive of Taiwan than the executive branch, see an opportunity to fortify Taiwan and impede China’s attempt to dominate a strategically vital region.
“The United States should use every tool to support Taiwan’s standing on the international stage,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who helped write the legislation. “This bipartisan legislation demands a whole-of-government approach to ramp up our support for Taiwan and will send a strong message to nations that there will be consequences for supporting Chinese actions that undermine Taiwan.”