China hit out on Friday at comments from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the democratic island of Taiwan wasn’t a part of China, vowing to strike back at any attempts to harm its interests.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Pompeo, who said “Taiwan has not been a part of China” during a U.S. radio interview on Thursday, had further damaged Sino-U.S. ties.
“We solemnly tell Pompeo and his ilk, that any behavior that undermines China’s core interests … will be met with a resolute counterattack by China,” Wang said.
Pompeo made the comments about Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) nor ever formed part of the People’s Republic of China, while explaining the U.S.’ legal obligation to provide the island with the means to defend itself on the Hugh Hewitt show.
Under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, China has stepped up its claims on the island, and has refused to rule out a military invasion.
But Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said that the country’s 23 million people have no wish to give up their de facto sovereignty or their democratic way of life.
China has imposed sanctions on U.S. companies selling weapons to Taiwan, and repeatedly flies fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace during key events like elections, or visits by senior U.S. officials.
Pompeo’s comment further distanced his administration from China’s claim on Taiwan, which it styles the “One China policy.”
He also said the U.S. commitment to Taiwan is bipartisan and praised Taiwan as “a model for democracy.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry, which represents the 1911 Republic of China founded by Sun Yat-sen, and which now controls the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu, thanked Pompeo for his support.
It said the Republic of China is a sovereign and independent country.
“This is a fact and the status quo,” the ministry said in a statement.
First clear statement on Taiwan
Ding Shu-Fan, honorary professor at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said the U.S. had previously kept its view on Taiwan conveniently vague.
“This is probably the first time a U.S. Secretary of State has clearly stated that Taiwan has never been part of China,” Ding said. “The U.S. hasn’t ever challenged the idea that there is only one China.”
“But it has never made clear what it thinks the relationship is between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China either; it’s been a bit vague about that part, I think.”
Chen Yi-hsin, honorary professor of international relations at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said the official Taiwan response was relatively low-key, indicating lingering uncertainty over future U.S. support under the administration of president-elect Joe Biden.
“This is somewhat different from the Biden administration’s view of China policy or arms sales policy,” Chen told RFA. “So it shows that the Trump administration is still pushing its views.”
“This could boost the confidence of Republicans because of the Georgia state run-offs for Senate on Jan. 5,” he said. “The other is that maybe they can use it … as a political bargaining chip with Biden, for Trump to concede the election.”
“Biden may reject this, but Pompeo would still look like a leader who is tough on China, and he may wish to run in the 2024 presidential election,” he said.
Wang also congratulated Joe Biden on being elected US president, one of the last major powers to do so.
“We respect the choice of the American people,” he said. “We congratulate Mr Biden [vice-presidential running-mate] Ms [Kamala] Harris.”
Wang gave no reason for the delay in responding, but said: “The result is to be confirmed in accordance with U.S. laws and procedures.”
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.