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US secretary of state calls Taiwan 'country' again

During grilling over Afghanistan, Blinken says US will stand by commitments under Taiwan Relations Act

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Afghanistan during a media briefing at the State Department, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Afghanistan during a media briefing at the State Department, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday (Sept. 13) referred to Taiwan as a "country" for the second time during his tenure.

On Monday, Blinken faced withering criticism for the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan during testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs via video conferencing. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) pressed Blinken to provide a firm commitment that the U.S. will not abandon vulnerable allies in the event of an attack by Russia or China.

At the 2:42 mark, Fitzpatrick stated that he had just returned from Ukraine and said that they were "scared to death" following the precipitous evacuation of U.S. forces and personnel from Afghanistan. Fitzpatrick added that his next stop will be Taiwan.

Fitzpatrick then asked Blinken, "Can we get you on the record here today, Sir, to tell this committee, this Congress and our nation, that we will, unequivocally and unapologetically, do whatever it takes — whatever it takes — to have the backs of our friends in Ukraine and our friends in Taiwan?"

Blinken quickly responded by saying, "Absolutely, we stand by our commitment to both countries." His use of the term "countries" was significant because it is the second time Blinken has referred to Taiwan as a country since becoming secretary of state.

However, when Fitzpatrick asked Blinken to affirm that the U.S. will "do whatever it takes to defend them," Blinken said, "We will stand by our commitments." As Fitzpatrick began to repeat the question, Blinken said that the U.S. will honor its duties under the Taiwan Relations Act and commitments to Ukraine.

The current Taiwan Relations Act, which was approved by Congress in 1979, does not guarantee the U.S. defense of the country in the event of an attack. Instead, it contains a provision that calls for the supply of arms to the country for its defense: "The United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities."

The Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty (中美共同防禦條約) contained an Article 5 in which an attack on one country would be considered an attack on both, but it was abrogated by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

Blinken's first use of the term "country" was during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Biden administration's foreign policy agenda held on March 10. When Representative Young Kim (R-CA) suggested that the Biden administration include Taiwan in the upcoming Democracy Summit, Blinken responded that he is "absolutely committed" to her suggestions and that he shares her view that "Taiwan is a strong democracy" and "a very strong technological power."

On Jan. 10, the State Department officially lifted its restrictions on official contact with Taiwan. Among those were prohibitions on using the terms "country" or "government" when referring to Taiwan.

On June 29, the State Department issued a memo reimposing many of the restrictions, and it is still not clear whether the use of the word "country" was placed back on the list or not. Therefore, as was the case with the first use of the term, it is not certain whether this was another slip of the tongue or a nod to a long-term policy.