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U.S. delegation is sent to Taiwan to show support amid potential Chinese aggression


The United States is sending a high-level delegation of former officials to Taiwan. This is more meaningful than your average overseas visit. The Americans are visiting a democracy that mainland China claims for itself, and they make that visit at the same time that Russia is invading a democracy in Ukraine. NPR Beijing correspondent Emily Feng is on the line. Hey there, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who's in this delegation?

FENG: So this delegation is comprised of former U.S. government officials. They're being led by Mike Mullen. He's a former Navy admiral who served George W. Bush and Obama, and several other defense and national security advisers who specialize in Asia and were active during the Obama administration. They're in Taiwan today, but they left the U.S. on February 28. And this is really interesting to me because that day is the anniversary of a bloody political crackdown in Taiwan in 1947. After that date, Taiwan went through nearly four decades of martial law, until they transitioned to democracy. So this date is a holiday for them, and it's remembered as what it costs to maintain civil liberties and democracy. So the fact that the U.S. is visiting Taiwan on this date means that this visit is being designed to show the U.S. values its relationship with Taiwan in the face of potential U.S. - Chinese aggression.

And this is all coming at a time where Chinese aggression is a particularly touchy subject, given that many commentators here in China have been trying to compare Taiwan's - or China's claim to Taiwan with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is very interesting. The flip side of that discussion is happening here in the United States, where some national security analysts will argue that whatever happens with Ukraine, how the United States responds to Ukraine, might affect what China does and how the U.S. would respond on Taiwan. But how would you compare the two, really?

FENG: To be honest, there's not a lot of similarity. But there is this common thread of territory because with Russia's pretext for invasion, their rationale was that there's this pro-Western state right on its borders, Ukraine, that has very strong cultural ties with Russia. And if you look at Taiwan, it's also this pro-Western state right next to China and which shares these overlapping cultural ties with China. So China's long considered taking over Taiwan unfinished business, stemming from the Civil War that they fought dating back about 70 years, and China has not ruled out using military force to subjugate Taiwan if needed. And just like Ukraine, Taiwan has been buying arms from the U.S.

Then again, an invasion of Taiwan would actually be very difficult compared to invading Ukraine. But what's going on in Ukraine has provoked a lot of anxiety on the ground in Taiwan that it might have to face down Chinese aggression alone. The U.S. is not treaty-bound to defend Taiwan, though there have been noises from the Biden administration that suggest the U.S.'s more ambiguous policy on Taiwan could shift, and this is because the U.S. very much believes China, not Russia, is this century's biggest geopolitical threat. So this visit at this moment is meant to reassure Taiwan the U.S. values its relationship with Taiwan, and the U.S. would help in some way, in standing up to China if it did attack.

INSKEEP: Is the U.S. visit sending a specific message on that relationship, then?

FENG: Definitely. I mean, so China right now is in a bind. China has tried to stay neutral by refusing to condemn the Russian invasion, but it's also refrained from helping Russia in more significant ways. So the fact that the U.S. is visiting Taiwan, which has spoken out against the Russian invasion, shows that China is facing these geopolitical risks that are opening up between China and Russia and basically the rest of the Western world.

INSKEEP: Emily, thanks very much. Really appreciate your insights.

FENG: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.