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Former US defence secretary Ash Carter said he supported “a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan”. Photo: AP

Taiwan is part of Indo-Pacific strategy, former US defence chief says

Ash Carter also emphasises stability in the region and resolving cross-strait issues through dialogue, on sidelines of security forum in Taipei


Former US defence secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday said Taiwan was part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy network, the latest US show of support for the self-ruled island amid escalating cross-strait tensions.

He also said he favoured stability in the region, and resolution of cross-strait issues through dialogue.

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Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue in Taipei, Carter told reporters he had been involved in Washington’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, which favoured “an inclusive network of countries pursuing security in a way that is based upon rules and principle, and not coercion”.

Emphasising that the network would guarantee the stability and prosperity of those operating within the rules and principles of the Indo-Pacific region, he noted that “Taiwan is a part of that network”.

Tsai Ing-wen reviews the troops in Taoyuan last week. The island’s president said Taipei was “committed to robust defence and deterrence forces”. Photo: EPA-EFE

Carter, who was in Taipei on a two-day visit and was a guest speaker at the security forum, also reiterated the US stance on Washington-Taipei-Beijing relations.

“I am a strong supporter of traditional US policy, favouring stability and dialogue across the strait, implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act and a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan, including the military sphere,” he said.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, has vowed to take back the island, by force if necessary. It has warned the US against forging official ties with Taipei or supplying arms to the island.

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It stepped up pressure on Taiwan after Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, became president in 2016 and refused to accept the “one China” principle, suspending exchanges and talks with the island.

Beijing has also been trying to isolate Taiwan by wooing away its diplomatic allies, and to intimidate it by sending warplanes and ships to stage drills near or outside its waters.

Opening the forum on Tuesday, Tsai told Carter and other participants that countries in the Indo-Pacific region must work together to ensure that future global security would not be determined by military or economic might.

“For our part, we are committed to robust defence and deterrence forces. Our defence expenditures will keep pace with our needs and GDP growth, and we are developing our indigenous defence industry as well,” she said, in an apparent reference to the US State Department’s call for Taiwan to boost its defence budget in the face of Beijing’s military threats.

On Monday, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told CNN that without US support, the island would be vulnerable to being taken over by force by Beijing. In response, a State Department spokesperson called for Taiwan to increase its military budget to a “level that corresponds to the security challenges it is faced with”, according to the island’s semi-official Central News Agency.

Is Taiwan warming to mainland China as Beijing turns up the heat?

At a reception for Carter after the ceremony, Tsai told the former defence secretary that Taiwan would not succumb to Beijing’s pressure, nor would it give up its democratic system.

“But I still believe the power of dialogue and our goodwill to China remains unchanged,” Tsai said, adding that Taipei would continue to work for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region.

The Taipei-based Prospect Foundation brought together more than 20 international experts and scholars for the one-day forum. It was the second time the event has been held, as Taiwan tries to establish itself as a regional security forum venue similar to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which Taipei is not part of.