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Biden sending delegation to Taiwan to reaffirm commitment amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Protesters outside the office of the Moscow-Taipei Coordination Commission in Taipei, Taiwan, on Feb. 25. (Chiang Ying-Ying/AP)
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President Biden is sending an unofficial delegation of former U.S. defense and national security officials to Taiwan on Monday, an effort to show that the United States’ commitment to Taiwan “remains rock solid,” according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the trip.

The visit, first reported by Reuters, comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which prompted Taiwan to take steps to bolster its military readiness against a possible attack from China. China claims the democratically ruled island as its own and has asserted it could one day use force to take control of Taiwan. The United States has for decades not taken a position on the status of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

The Biden administration official did not cite Ukraine specifically as the reason for the U.S. visit but noted that it followed “a long-standing bipartisan tradition” of presidential administrations sending “high-level, unofficial delegations” to Taiwan.

Traveling to Taiwan will be Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama; Meghan O’Sullivan, deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush; Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy under Obama; and Mike Green and Evan Medeiros, who were both senior directors for Asia on the National Security Council.

“The selection of these five individuals sends an important signal about the bipartisan U.S. commitment to Taiwan and its democracy and demonstrates that the Biden administration’s and the United States’ commitment to Taiwan remains rock solid,” the Biden administration official said.

The U.S. delegation will meet senior Taiwanese officials at the highest levels, including Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng, Reuters reported. A representative for Taiwan’s presidential office could not immediately be reached Monday afternoon.

The delegation was departing on Feb. 28, one of the most significant and sensitive dates in Taiwanese history. It is the 75th anniversary of the “2-28 incident,” which in 1947 led to the massacre of tens of thousands of people, sparked 38 years of martial law in Taiwan and paved the way for Taiwan to become a democracy decades later.

In her commemoration Monday of that dark period in Taiwan’s history, Tsai emphasized that the day was “an important reminder of the Taiwanese people’s journey to democracy, strengthening our resolve to protect our country & way of life.” Citing the anniversary, Tsai’s spokeswoman also vowed Monday that Taiwan would “never go back” to the days before it was a democracy, along with a message of solidarity to Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stoked fears among world leaders and some in Taiwan that something similar could happen if China chooses to attack Taiwan. About 200 people in Taipei protested Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in front of Moscow’s de facto diplomatic office in the Taiwanese capital last week. In the wake of Russia’s invasion, China’s Foreign Ministry has said that Taiwan is “not Ukraine” — but only to again claim that it was a part of China.

Tsai condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, and Taiwan has joined international economic sanctions against Russia. At the same time, Tsai emphasized that Taiwan’s situation was “fundamentally different” from that of Ukraine, noting geographical and other differences. Nevertheless, she said, Taiwan’s security agencies and military were “on guard around the clock” and “prepared to respond to any contingency.”

“Our military is committed to defending our homeland and continues to improve its ability to do so, and our global partners are contributing to the security of our region, giving us strong confidence in Taiwan’s security,” Tsai said in a statement.

“At the same time, we are working to strengthen our civil defense as well as our ability to counter cognitive warfare, so that we can prevent external forces and their collaborators from using the situation in Ukraine to manufacture and spread disinformation in an attempt to undermine morale among the Taiwanese people,” she added.

Annie Linskey contributed to this report.