Jan 14th 2021TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, the United States has not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since it initiated them with the People’s Republic
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, the United States has not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since it initiated them with the People’s Republic of China, in 1979. But diplomats or no, America promises to maintain close economic and cultural ties and provide arms “of a defensive character”. It also reserves the right to come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of any coercion against the island nation (presumably by China, which threatens force to reclaim what it insists is part of the motherland). This much is laid out in the foundational text governing bilateral ties, the Taiwan Relations Act, passed by Congress the same year. But crucially, these links, close as they are, have all supposedly been “unofficial”.
That word is a figleaf, says Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who is a former head of America’s de facto embassy in Taipei. The leaf has grown over time and hides much that goes on so as not to give China unnecessary grounds for pique. A thicket of dialogues has sprouted between officials of the two countries, and the boundaries of the unofficial have been cautiously stretched. Only a decade ago were the Stars and Stripes first raised outside the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), an embassy in all but name. (Taiwan even now refrains from flying its national flag outside its equivalent office in Washington.)