On Sunday, March 28, an American diplomat paid an official visit to Taiwan. Ordinarily, this type of meeting wouldn’t be a big deal. American diplomats fly around the world all the time, even during the coronavirus pandemic. But for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the trip was a major affront—one that threatens the “peace and stability” of the Taiwan Strait.
The U.S. ambassador to Palau, John Hennessey-Niland, didn’t visit Taipei on his own. He joined a delegation led by Surangel Whipps, the president of the Pacific island nation of Palau. While the U.S. is committed to defend Palau until 2044, the country gained its independence in 1994 and maintains its own foreign affairs. This includes relations with Taiwan. While many countries won’t engage directly with the Taiwanese, for fear of evoking the CCP’s wrath, Palau has kept the diplomatic relationship alive.
Whipps made the trip to discuss ways to contain the coronavirus, an obvious concern for both island countries. Nevertheless, Ambassador Hennessey-Niland’s participation drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing. Taiwan is a democracy, but the CCP claims that it has no right to exist as its own sovereign country. Indeed, Taiwan’s very existence is a constant reminder that Chinese identity need not be wrapped up in loyalty to the CCP and its peculiar form of authoritarianism.
“China firmly opposes any form of official interactions between the U.S. and Taiwan,” Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said during a press conference on Monday. “This position is consistent and clear.” Zhao warned the Biden administration that it “must stop any official interaction with Taiwan, refrain from sending any wrong signals to Taiwan independent forces, stop any attempt to cross the bottom line, and properly handle Taiwan-related issues with prudence, lest it should damage China-U.S. relations, as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”