TAIPEI • The United States should immediately move towards recognising Taiwan as a country, former US secretary of state and potential presidential candidate Mike Pompeo said in Taipei, comments that garnered a testy response from Beijing.
"It is imperative to change 50 years of ambiguity," said Mr Pompeo, who was the top diplomat in the Trump administration and is visiting the city in an unofficial capacity at the invitation of a think-tank in Taipei.
"While the US should continue to engage with the People's Republic of China as a sovereign government, America's diplomatic recognition of the 23 million freedom-loving Taiwanese people and its legal, democratically elected government can no longer be ignored and avoided," he said yesterday.
The change encouraged by Mr Pompeo would upend more than four decades of US "strategic ambiguity" on Taiwan, a policy intended to minimise the risk of a direct conflict with China, which claims the island as part of its territory to be reunified, by force if necessary.
Since it established diplomatic relations with Beijing's government in 1979, the US has maintained informal "people-to-people" ties with Taiwan while avoiding taking a position on the island's sovereignty. Any shift in the US stance would likely prompt a furious response from Beijing.
Earlier this year, China's Ambassador in Washington, Mr Qin Gang, warned that his country and the US would likely engage in military conflict if Taiwan's government moved towards formalising its independence.
Later yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin lashed out at Mr Pompeo, calling him "a former politician whose credibility has long gone bankrupt". "Such a person's babbling nonsense will have no success," he added.
Mr Pompeo's trip overlapped with one by former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen that Washington intended as a signal of support amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which shares similar security concerns as Taiwan.
Both Mr Pompeo and Mr Mullen met President Tsai Ing-wen, who has angered Beijing by pushing back on its claims to sovereignty over the island.
That has prompted China to step up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan, most notably by sending military aircraft sorties towards the island. People's Liberation Army warplanes made some 960 forays into Taiwan's air defence identification zone last year, more than double that in the previous year.
A small number of protesters from pro-unification parties gathered at the hotel in downtown Taipei where Mr Pompeo made his remarks. He said in his speech that the right to demonstrate was one of the things that made Taiwan's democracy special and joked that the protesters "made me feel like I'm at home".
A staunch critic of China's ruling Communist Party, Mr Pompeo was former US president Donald Trump's top diplomat from 2018 to early last year, a period that included visits to Taipei by two Cabinet-level officials, the most senior American delegations since the US switched official ties to Beijing.
He has said that China's actions towards the Uighur ethnic group in its far-western region of Xinjiang are "genocide" and met people who said they had been in work camps there.
Beijing calls these allegations "the lies of the century" and has held frequent press conferences aimed at discrediting some of the same individuals who met the then Secretary of State.
Mr Pompeo is among a group of former officials in the Trump administration seen as potential presidential hopefuls in 2024.