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China Says the U.S. Could Abandon Taiwan if Trump Wins the Presidency

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China said a victory by Donald Trump in the presidential election later this year could lead to the U.S. abandoning Taiwan, comments intended to sow doubt over Washington’s commitment to the island.

“The U.S. will always pursue America first, and Taiwan can change from a chess piece to a discarded chess piece at any time,” Chen Binhua, spokesman for the office in Beijing that handles matters related to the island, said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

Chen was responding to a question about an interview Trump gave Fox News in July in which he avoided directly answering a query over whether as president he’d defend Taiwan if China attacked.

“If I answer that question, it’ll put me in a very bad negotiating position,” Trump said at the time. “With that being said, Taiwan did take all of our chip business.”

China frequently suggests that the U.S. isn’t a reliable partner for Taiwan, a line that’s aimed at undermining the island’s confidence that it’ll be able to withstand an invasion. The U.S. has traditionally adopted a policy of strategic ambiguity, acknowledging China’s historical claims to sovereignty over Taiwan, while maintaining only unofficial relations with Taipei and pledging defensive assistance.

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Still, President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it came under attack. Washington is Taipei’s main military supporter, and in late 2022 it authorized as much as $10 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan over five years.

Beijing has responded to the weapons sales by hitting defense firms with largely symbolic sanctions. China has vowed to bring the democratically run island of 23 million people under its control someday, by force if that’s what it takes.

When asked about Chen’s remarks, a spokesman for Trump’s campaign referred to comments he made while president that acknowledged China was a security threat.

The spokesman also pointed to a precedent-breaking conversation that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen had with Trump when he was president-elect in 2016. The call was the closest a Taiwanese leader has come to getting formal U.S. recognition since Washington established relations with the Communist government in Beijing some four decades ago.

The U.S. and China fought a trade war during Trump’s term, when ties between the nations frayed over a range of issues, including the origins of the coronavirus, espionage, technology and human rights.

China has maintained its pressure on Taiwan since the island elected the U.S.-friendly Vice President Lai Ching-te as its next leader on Jan. 13. Days afterward, Beijing peeled off one of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies, Nauru, and its ties with another Pacific ally, Tuvalu, are at risk after an election there.

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On Tuesday, China changed a civil aviation route without consulting Taiwan, which lodged what it said was a “strong protest” with Beijing. The move essentially normalizes the flight of Chinese civilian aircraft closer to the island. 

The People’s Liberation Army regularly sends sorties of warplanes into sensitive zones around Taiwan, and has held major military exercises around the island twice since August 2022 because Tsai met top U.S. lawmakers.

Chen, the spokesman for the Taiwan office in Beijing, said the aviation change was “within regular work scope of China civil aviation regulator.” He also reiterated Beijing’s stance that “Taiwan is an integral part of China’s territory.”

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