WASHINGTON • The nominee to be the top US diplomat for East Asia has promised that President Joe Biden would keep building relations with Taiwan, but baulked at backing an overhaul of delicate arrangements on the issue with China.
Mr Daniel Kritenbrink, a career diplomat tapped to be the United States' assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the relationship with Taiwan was "stronger than it's ever been" since 1979, when Washington switched recognition to Beijing.
"It's also incumbent upon us to further develop our robust relationship with Taiwan in every sector," he said in response to questions from senators who advocated more US support for the island democracy.
China claims Taiwan as its territory and has been ramping up pressure, including with a record 28 aircraft incursions reported on Tuesday, months after it clamped down on freedoms in Hong Kong.
The tensions have fuelled calls by some US analysts and lawmakers to shed a longstanding policy of "strategic ambiguity" - not specifying how the US would respond to a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait - in favour of an explicit, robust promise of defending the self-governing island.
Asked if he supported a change, Mr Kritenbrink said that existing US policy including the agreement only to recognise Beijing has "ensured cross-strait stability and Taiwan's security for these many decades".
"As the threat from the PRC grows, as Beijing's aggressive and bullying behaviour vis-a-vis Taiwan grows, I think that our response has to be calibrated as well," he said, referring to the People's Republic of China.
"But I am confident that the framework that we have, and meeting those obligations in the Taiwan Relations Act, gives us the tools to do so."
Responding to a request for comment, Mr Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for China's embassy in the US, said Washington should "stop elevating its relationship with the Taiwan region in any substantive way... so as to avoid serious damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait".
The Taiwan Relations Act, passed by Congress when Washington shifted diplomatic recognition to China, requires the US to provide Taiwan with weapons for its self-defence.
Mr Biden has moved ahead with former president Donald Trump's more outspoken approach on Taiwan, including pushing for its inclusion in international bodies.
The Biden administration last week said it will be resuming trade talks with Taiwan that had been on hiatus since Mr Barack Obama's administration.
Separately, the Senate last week passed a major package on investment in innovation whose provisions include lifting a ban on displays of Taiwan's flag and the wearing of Taiwanese uniforms during meetings in Washington.
Mr Kritenbrink, who appeared likely to be confirmed, is fluent in Chinese and Japanese.
In his latest position as ambassador to Vietnam, he became an unlikely Internet sensation by releasing his own rap video for the country's Tet, or new year, holiday.