Beijing has accused Washington of “political manipulation” and attempting to change the status quo after the US state department quietly amended its website to remove a line stating it did not support Taiwanese independence.
In a delicate geopolitical balancing act, the US has long acknowledged, but not supported, China’s claim to Taiwan under its version of the “one China principle”. However, experts say that policy has been eroded as Beijing has become more assertive.
In an updated page on the state department’s online “fact sheet” Washington last week removed some key lines from the 1979 US-PRC joint communique. It included a line saying “the US recognised the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China”.
The line saying the US “does not support Taiwan independence” – which appeared in a previous version published on 31 August 2018 – has also been removed from the website. The new version said theUS “continues to encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan”.
It added: “The United States has a longstanding one China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three US-China joint communiques, and the six assurances.”
Beijing sees Taiwan as a part of China and has vowed to take it back, with force if necessary. On Tuesday, a spokesperson at the American Institute in Taiwan – the US’s de-facto embassy on the island – said Washington’s commitment to Taipei was “rock solid”, and that it “contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region”.
On the same day, Beijing criticised the change. A foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, called the edit “an act of political manipulation and an attempt to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, which will backfire and the US itself will get burned”.
The edits took place on 5 May, the state department’s website showed. The latest fact sheet on Taiwan begins with the line that “as a leading democracy and a technological powerhouse, Taiwan is a key US partner in the Indo-Pacific”. The state department also said that the US and Taiwan “share similar values, deep commercial and economic links, and strong people-to-people ties”.
It is not immediately clear if recent changes to the fact sheet reflected the Biden administration’s latest policy on China. Anthony Blinken, the secretary of state, was scheduled to deliver a major speech last week laying out the government’s framing on China. The activity was cancelled due to Blinken’s Covid test results.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing over the island of Taiwan have continued to rise since Biden became US president last year. In January, Qin Gang, the Chinese envoy to the US, warned the two countries could face a “military conflict” over the future of Taiwan, in an unusually explicit reference to the prospect of war.