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'We cannot trust China to make commitments on Taiwan'

China ambassador nominee says US should 'make Taiwan a tough nut to crack'

Nicholas Burns. (US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations screenshot)

Nicholas Burns. (US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — U.S. President Joe Biden's nominee for ambassador to China, said that Washington cannot trust the communist country to keep its commitments on Taiwan and the solution is to make Taiwan a "tough nut to crack."

In his opening remarks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Thursday (Oct. 20), Nicholas Burns said that China's "genocide in Xinjiang, abuses in Tibet, smothering of Hong Kong's autonomy and freedoms, and its bullying of Taiwan are unjust and must stop." He said China's recent military actions are "especially objectionable" and the U.S. must aid Taiwan in maintaining a "sufficient self-defense capability," as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act.

Burns declared that China is "not an Olympian power," and though it boasts many strengths, it also must deal with "substantial demographic, economic, and political challenges." He called on the U.S. to have confidence in its strengths, such as its military, scientific and technological capacities, to leverage alliances and partnerships.

Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the committee, asked that given China's threatening rhetoric against Taiwan, how should the U.S. deter Chinese aggression towards the country? Burns pointed to the increase of "bullying and intimidation tactics towards Taiwan" and the incursion of 149 warplanes into the Taiwan air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in early October.

The nominee asserted that the U.S. has "enormous latitude" under the Taiwan Relations Act to boost military assistance to Taiwan. He described the 1979 act to be "remarkably modern" given the challenges facing the U.S. and Taiwan in the 21st century.

He pointed out that since 2009, three U.S. administrations have provided approximately US$30 billion in military aid to Taiwan. Against China's "objectionable statements towards Taiwan," Burns called on the U.S. to:

  1. Continue to deepen security cooperation and expand weapons sales to the country.
  2. Provide a deterrent in the Indo-Pacific.
  3. Ask allies to "show a real commitment to Taiwan."
  4. Be clear on criticism of China and "shine a light on those Chinese actions and Chinese rhetoric."

Senator James Risch then asked Burns to compare the situation in Hong Kong to that in Taiwan and whether China would "push the envelope in Taiwan" and create a crisis. Burns recalled witnessing the handover of Hong Kong from the U.K. to China in 1997 and recalled all the commitments Beijing made to the people of Hong Kong, but lamented that the Chinese "have gone back on every one of those commitments."

By the same token, Burns asserted, "We cannot trust China to meet the commitments it made on the Taiwan issue." He said it was therefore the responsibility of the U.S. to "make Taiwan a tough nut to crack."

Burns argued the focus should be on bolstering Taiwan's asymmetrical defenses via the Taiwan Relations Act. He called on other allied nations to follow suit and stressed that Taiwan will be a central issue in the relationship between the U.S. and China.