Ko Yu-chih, Associate Professor, Department of Diplomacy, National Chengchi University, in China Times (September 24, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Wang Yu-ching/Office of the President, Taiwan)
On August 9, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar led a delegation to Taiwan. On September 17, a delegation led by Keith Krach, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, arrived in Taipei. The results of the two visits were mixed. Azar and Krach are the highest-ranking US officials to visit Taiwan since 1979. While Azar’s visit was open and formal, Krach’s was low-key and informal. This raises questions over the true intentions of the US.
The Azar delegation not only met President Tsai Ing-wen, but they also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC). Meanwhile, the Krach delegation’s itinerary was not confirmed publicly beforehand and the format minimized intergovernmental meetings.
Azar’s delegation visited to discuss Covid-19 and public health cooperation, while Krach’s delegation was engaged in “funeral diplomacy”, attending the memorial service of former president Lee Teng-hui. The subsequent exchanges with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on US-Taiwan economic cooperation took place on the sidelines.
The two delegations will provide a boost to the current government, given that Taiwan’s international recognition has been gradually reduced. The excessively low-key nature of the Krach delegation, however, highlights the caution of US diplomats in deepening economic relations and suggests that the Washington has no desire in provoking Beijing.
While Azar’s delegation signed a MoU, it did not cover vaccine cooperation, an area to which Taiwan is eager to contribute. Meanwhile, Krach’s delegation was particularly interested in Taiwan's screening of foreign investments. This could end up dragging Taiwan into the Sino-US trade war or giving the US the right to intervene in Taiwan’s investment review processes. The government must be cautious as this could ultimately make Taiwan more dependent on the US.