The US ambassador to Palau joined the country’s president on a trip to Taiwan this week, marking the first visit to Taipei from a US ambassador to a foreign country since the US severed formal ties with Taiwan in 1979.
Palauan President Surangel Whipps arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for a five-day with US Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland. Palau, unlike the US, is one of the few countries that have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei.
Unsurprisingly, Beijing denounced the visit from Hennessey-Niland and said it hurts US-China relations. “The Chinese side resolutely opposes any form of official contacts between US and Taiwanese officials,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian
The visit from Hennessey-Niland is a sign that President Biden will continue the Trump administration’s policies and strengthen ties with Taipei as part of the US strategy to counter Beijing in the region.
The Trump administration took several measures to increase ties with Taiwan, including loosening State Department restrictions on contacts with Taiwanese officials and setting up high-level visits to the island. Last August, then-Health Secretary Alex Azar made the trip, marking the highest-level US visit to Taiwan since the 1979 diplomatic shift.
Azar’s visit was made possible by the Taiwan Travel Act, a bill that was signed into law by President Trump in 2018 that paved the way for high-level US officials to travel to Taiwan. Analysts told The South China Morning Post that the visit from Hennessey-Niland means the Biden administration is observing the Taiwan Travel Act.
This week’s visit could have also been for the US and Palau to present a united front against China. Palau, an archipelago in the Pacific located about 500 miles east of the Philippines, has invited the US to build a military base on its territory. With the US looking to increase its military presence in the region, the Biden administration could take up Palau on its offer.