The embattled Trump administration has just nuked the decades long US recognition of the "One China" policy status quo in what surely constitutes the biggest shot across Beijing's bow after months of anti-China escalation.
Despite the globe's attention focused on the Capitol protest chaos and Democrats readying a charge to impeach under Pelosi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday announced this absolute bombshell, namely that he's now lifting "self-imposed restrictions" on the relationship between the United States and Taiwan. He announced in an official statement:
Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions. Executive branch agencies should consider all "contact guidelines" regarding relations with Taiwan previously issued by the Department of State under authorities delegated to the Secretary of State to be null and void.
The US will no longer act in accord with viewing the island in context of a single sovereign China when it comes to relations with Taiwan as has kept the unsteady "peace" for decades.
His statement began by describing the complex impediments restraining US action which have been in effect since at least the 1980's (since 1979, and outgrowth of Carter's Taiwan Relations Act) regarding the official 'One China' doctrine which he's just effectively declared null and void:
Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and reliable partner of the United States, and yet for several decades the State Department has created complex internal restrictions to regulate our diplomats, servicemembers, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts. The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing. No more.
Crucially the shock announcement comes just ahead of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft's controversial visit to Taipei, which Beijing has already slammed as a "crazy provocation".
China had further already warned this week that Washington will pay a "heavy price" should it move forward with sending Kelly on the official visit.
To be sure, the Chinese govt will not be happy about this memo, but (from their perspective) at least @SecPompeo referred to Taiwan as an "unofficial partner."— Julian Ku 古舉倫 (@julianku) January 9, 2021
Pompeo's full statement continued:
Additionally, any and all sections of the Foreign Affairs Manual or Foreign Affairs Handbook that convey authorities or otherwise purport to regulate executive branch engagement with Taiwan via any entity other than the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) are also hereby voided. The executive branch‘s relations with Taiwan are to be handled by the non-profit AIT, as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act.
The United States government maintains relationships with unofficial partners around the world, and Taiwan is no exception. Our two democracies share common values of individual freedom, the rule of law, and a respect for human dignity. Today’s statement recognizes that the U.S.-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy.
This is sure to create more transition chaos with a mere week-and-a-half left till Biden's inauguration.
The timing of it will also be a huge factor in determining Beijing's response, given it may look to Biden for assurances that he'll roll back whatever "damage" Trump's dumping of the longstanding 'One China' has done on the way out the door.