Taiwan is driving China-U.S. tensions. Meet the person right in the middle
When President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met at the APEC summit this November, one of the top agenda items was Taiwan, an island China claims as its own. Xi called Taiwan the "most important" and "most sensitive" issue driving U.S.-China tensions.
The top U.S. representative in Taiwan, Sandra Oudkirk, is trying to navigate that tricky terrain.
Who is she? Oudkirk became the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) — the U.S. office in Taipei — in July 2021.
- The AIT functions much like an American embassy – but it is decidedly not one.
- That's because the U.S. does not formally recognize Taiwan as a country, choosing since 1979 to instead recognize Beijing.
- The U.S. still maintains close trade and political exchanges with Taiwan however, and Taiwan has become an important high-tech economy.
What is the latest?
- Taiwan is gearing up for presidential elections in Jan. 2024. Taiwanese civil society groups warn Chinese state actors may plant false narratives on Taiwan's social media platforms and news outlets in the run up to stoke fear among Taiwanese voters and distrust for the U.S.
- Taiwan is expressing low levels of confidence in the U.S. as a stable partner for Taiwan. A recent poll from the prominent Taipei-based research institute Academia Sinica found 34% of people agreed that the U.S. was a trustworthy country, a drop of more than 11 percentage points since 2021.
Listen to the State of the World episode on how China is trying to gradually wear down Taiwan's defenses without ever invading.
What is she saying? Oudkirk spoke to NPR in Taiwan this week. Here's what she said.
On whether the U.S. would heed China's request to stop selling arms to Taiwan and to support it using peaceful means to take control of the island:
On whether she thinks China is planning to invade Taiwan in the near future:
On how she thinks the U.S. can push back on false claims and conspiracy theories circulating through Taiwanese social media and news that the U.S. is not a reliable partner to Taiwan:
On the United States' economic relationship with Taiwan – and how it's not just about semiconductor chips, which Taiwan leads the world in manufacturing:
- The Senate is deliberating on a proposed military aid bill that would give more money to defense initiatives that counter China and help Taiwan defend itself. The bill has hit a snag, mostly from lawmakers who want to pare down funding and separate out funding streams to Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and to the US-Mexico border.
- Taiwan's presidential elections in Jan. 2024 are heating up. The island's opposition KMT and TPP parties tried to work together and run on a joint ticket earlier this November but their short-lived collaboration dramatically fell apart after the candidates couldn't agree on who would run as the presidential nominee.
- Meanwhile, Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the U.S. Bi-khim Hsiao is running as the vice presidential candidate on the ticket of the ruling party, the DPP. Their biggest challengers will be the KMT, which has picked a deeply-conservative vice presidential candidate who favors closer ties with China.
- Taiwan's companies make the world's electronics. Now they want to make weapons
- Planet Money: How Taiwan became an undisputed leader in semiconductors
- How Taiwan used women's voices to send secret messages into China and woo defectors
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