US diplomat warns China’s provoking of Taiwan risks conflict

Taipei, Taiwan — Outgoing director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Sandra Oudkirk, has warned China against aggressive moves in the region that could spark a larger conflict.

Oudkirk made the comment in response to a question at a June 14 farewell news conference.

“The United States is profoundly devoted to a status quo in the straits and in the region … that is one of peace and stability. And that is why we have consistently urged the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to avoid coercive or provocative actions both in the Taiwan Straits and in other areas like the South China Sea and off Japan, because provocative actions are almost by definition dangerous,” she said. “They run the risk of a miscalculation or an accident that could spark a broader conflict.”

During Oudkirk’s three-year term, China conducted three island-circling military exercises against Taiwan, causing an unprecedented level of tension in the history of the American Institute in Taiwan, or AIT, which serves as Washington’s de facto embassy.

China considers self-governing Taiwan a breakaway province that must one day be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

The U.S., like many countries, does not recognize Taiwan as a country in order to have relations with China. But Washington maintains informal diplomatic relations with Taipei through the AIT, along with direct trade and defense ties, and supports Taiwan as a self-governing democracy.

Oudkirk reiterated U.S. support for Taiwan’s defense capabilities against Chinese aggression, saying that bolstering Taiwan’s ability to defend itself was AIT’s “top priority.”

“We look forward to the delivery of the military capabilities” from the long-awaited U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, she said. Worth nearly $20 billion, they were purchased over the past several years but have seen delays in delivery.

Oudkirk blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for affecting supply chains but said the delays were gradually unwinding and to “watch this space.”

The U.S. in early June approved an $80 million sale of F-16 fighter jet spare and repair parts to Taiwan.

China’s defense ministry declared Beijing’s strong opposition to the arms sales on June 7 and urged Washington to withdraw them immediately.

Amid concerns about a potential defense vacuum in Taiwan, some analysts have suggested the U.S. move some arms and ammunition production to Taiwan.

In response, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Wellington Koo said on June 11 that the two countries are moving toward “possible joint production,” reported Taiwanese media.

Meanwhile, Oudkirk noted that Taiwan is looking at becoming a component supplier for the U.S. defense industry.

“We have had a variety of delegations come through Taiwan looking at cybersecurity, looking at unmanned systems, drones. I can tell there is a lot of interest there but there are still some steps in terms of meeting the standards that the U.S. puts down for its defense industrial base that Taiwan’s private companies would have to meet.”

Tzu-yun Su, an associate research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, told VOA the technical issues for Taiwan and U.S. defense companies to expand cooperation are not big, but a major hurdle is corporate governance.

“The confidentiality of the companies, personnel safety control and information network security will be the three major factors,” said Su. “At the same time, the government laws must be connected. If Taiwanese companies can keep up with these regulations and management aspects, they will have a relatively good chance of entering the U.S. defense supply chain.”

Asked about concerns that U.S. policy to Taiwan could change if President Joe Biden is not reelected in November, Oudkirk said, “In the United States, unlike on almost any other issue of foreign policy or domestic policy, there is a broad-based, bipartisan consensus on policy towards Taiwan. So, I do not think an election would necessarily change that.”

The American Institute in Taiwan announced in late May that Raymond Greene will succeed Oudkirk as head of the office in Taipei sometime this summer.

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