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Biden’s pick for China ambassador says ‘we cannot trust the Chinese’ on Taiwan

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2021-10-20
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Nicholas Burns speaks to the US Senate committee on foreign relations, which is due to confirm his appointment as ambassador to China: ‘Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack.’

US president Joe Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to Beijing said on Wednesday that China was aggressive and untrustworthy, insisting that boosting Taiwan’s defences against the threat of Chinese invasion should be a US priority.

Speaking to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which is due to confirm his appointment, Nicholas Burns denounced recent Chinese warplane incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone, calling them “especially objectionable”.

“We certainly cannot trust the Chinese” on the issue of Taiwan, Burns said. “Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack.”

The comments come amid increasing international pushback on Beijing’s actions towards Taiwan. On Thursday, the European parliament adopted a report calling on the EU to ramp up relations with Taiwan.

Since 1979 the US has recognised the People’s Republic of China, but the US Congress simultaneously requires Washington to provide Taiwan with means of self-defence.

The island has had its own government since the communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, but Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory to be assimilated one day, by force if necessary.

However, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, recently urged a “peaceful reunification”.

Burns – a career diplomat who has worked in a number of US administrations, under Democrats and Republicans – did not mince his words on Wednesday.

He accused the Chinese government of being “an aggressor against India along their long Himalayan border, against Vietnam, the Philippines and others in the South China Sea, against Japan, in the East China Sea”.

“Beijing has launched an intimidation campaign against Australia, and even more recently Lithuania,” he said. “The PRC’s genocide in Xinjiang, its abuses in Tibet, its smothering of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms and its bullying of Taiwan are unjust and must stop.”

But Burns stressed that China’s power should not be overestimated: “They have very few friends. They have no real allies.”

“We ought not to exaggerate their strengths or underestimate the strengths of the United States,” he told the committee. “What we need is self confidence that the United States is a strong country.”

On Thursday, an overwhelming majority of the European parliament voted for a report supporting an increase in EU-Taiwan relations, guided by the EU’s one-China policy.

In a statement, the parliament hailed Taiwan as “a key EU partner and democratic ally in the Indo-Pacific,” and called for closer relations. It issued a warning over tensions in the Taiwan Strait, urged the scoping of a bilateral trade agreement, and expressed “deep concerns” over China’s military pressure against Taiwan.

The text was approved with 580 votes in favour, 26 against, and 66 abstentions.

“The European parliament’s first report on EU-Taiwan relations demonstrates that the EU is ready to upgrade its relationship with our key partner Taiwan,” said Charlie Weimers, the rapporteur on EU-Taiwan relations.

The adopted report also proposed changing the name of the EU’s de facto diplomatic presence in Taiwan from the “European Economic and Trade Office” to “European Union Office in Taiwan”.

Such a move is likely to prompt a rebuke from Beijing, which is hypersensitive to any move that suggests recognition of Taiwan’s sovereignty. In August, plans by Lithuania and Taiwan to open mutual offices with the name of Lithuania’s including “Taiwan” sparked a row in which China recalled its ambassador from Vilnius.

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