U.S. Delegation Lands in Taipei As Beijing Protests Joe Biden's 'Personal Signal'

A delegation of former U.S. officials has arrived in Taipei at the request of Joe Biden for a visit described as the president's "personal signal" of commitment to democratic Taiwan amid China's escalating military pressure against the island.

Former Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut leads the group also comprising former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg. The "unofficial" trip to mark 42 years of the Taiwan Relations Act, which Biden supported as a senator, will include meetings with senior Taiwanese officials and the country's president, Tsai Ing-wen, Reuters reported.

Joanne Ou, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, had previously confirmed the delegation was scheduled to land Wednesday afternoon Taipei time. She called the trip "an expression of the United States' strong friendship and commitment to Taiwan."

A formal statement regarding the visit would be issued following their arrival, she told Newsweek.

Dodd, a Democrat once described by Biden as his "single best friend" in Congress, is a close adviser to the president, while Armitage and Steinberg served in the State Department during the respective administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The trio, who were met on the tarmac by Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Director Brent Christensen of the American Institute in Taiwan, are scheduled to meet with Tsai at the Presidential Office in Taipei on Thursday. The Taiwanese leader will also host a dinner the same evening.

"The selection of these three individuals—senior statesmen who are longtime friends of Taiwan and personally close with President Biden—sends an important signal about the U.S. commitment to Taiwan and its democracy," an unnamed White House official told Reuters, calling the visit the president's "personal signal."

Minister Wu greeted @SenChrisDodd & former @StateDept Deputy Secretaries Richard Armitage & James Steinberg upon arrival in #Taipei. The presence of the statesmen & friends of #Taiwan🇹🇼 is a strong vote of #US🇺🇸 confidence in the country & its freedom- & democracy-loving people. pic.twitter.com/pPYzHo9E78

— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) April 14, 2021

The significance of the unofficial visit has not been lost on local analysts. It comes in the week after the Biden administration announced new and relaxed guidelines for interactions between serving U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts—a decision met with strong opposition from the Chinese government, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan's former ambassador to Washington from 2000 to 2004, said he expected the delegation to carry a message intended for both Taipei and Beijing. The U.S. wants China to stop threatening Taiwan, but also wants the cross-strait neighbors to engage in meaningful dialogue, Chen told the island's government-funded Central News Agency.

The arrival of the U.S. delegation was welcomed by Taiwan's main opposition party Kuomintang but drew sharp criticism from Chinese official Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office.

In the office's press briefing Wednesday morning, Ma said the categorization of the visit as unofficial was a "veil of deception." He accused the Taiwanese government of "colluding" with the U.S. in order to push for independence, despite Taipei's statements to the contrary.

The group's arrival, which Taipei said had been weeks in the planning, comes after Taiwan's Defense Ministry recorded the largest number of Chinese warplane incursions into the island's air defense zone on Monday—25 fighter jets, spy planes and nuclear-capable heavy bombers.

Five additional People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft flew around southwest Taiwan on Tuesday, marking the 11th consecutive day of defensive airspace intrusions and 81 sorties in April so far. The number is a sharp rise from the 54 last month, 40 in February and 81 total for all of January.

Ma, with Beijing's Taiwan office, described the maneuvers near the island as "actual combat exercises" aimed at "provocations by Taiwan independence" and "external forces"—a phrase most often used in reference to the United States.

"The PLA's military exercises and training operations are sending a signal that our determination to curb Taiwan independence and Taiwan-U.S. collusion is not just talk," Ma said.

The Taiwanese government has yet to report Chinese warplane incursions on Wednesday, but analysts have noted a spike in PLA operations around Taiwan during perceived improvements to U.S.-Taiwan ties.

At 8:30 a.m. local time, roughly five hours before the delegation's arrival, China's Maritime Safety Administration announced new live-fire exercises off the coasts of Shanwei and Shantou, in its southern province of Guangdong.

President Joe Biden Addresses Crowd At Inauguration
President Joe Biden addresses the crowd at his inauguration on January 20, 20212 in Washington D.C. He has announced relaxed guidelines for interactions between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts. PATRICK SEMANSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images