Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022


China’s increasingly muscular efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally paid off in Washington after a foreign naval association fell under Chinese pressure and reversed the course to get Taiwanese officers to join the group.

Several people familiar with the dispute said the Washington-based Naval Attachés Association had withdrawn an invitation for Taiwan to join the group, which includes officials from U.S. allies, after China strongly objected.

The U.S. Navy has banned officers from attending NAA events. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said last month that he did not support China’s ‘coercive tactics’ and opposed attempts to “manipulate independent organizations”.

China often relies on governments, NGOs, companies and the media to deny Taiwan’s sovereignty. But the NAA case is a rare example of what is forcing a group in the US to sever ties with the island.

It highlights the difficulty Washington is facing in expanding exchanges with Taiwan and normalizing contacts with Taiwanese officials while the US and most powerful nations deny diplomatic recognition of Taipei.

“One of the core functions of China’s overseas representatives and agents is to marginalize and isolate Taiwan in every possible forum,” said Ivan Kanapathy, a Taiwanese expert at Georgetown University. “This is usually done through political and economic cooperation or coercion, often using opaque or even corrupt methods.”

According to e-mails seen by the Financial Times and accounts of diplomats and government officials familiar with the matter, the NAA agreed last summer to a membership request from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (Tecro), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the USA.

“We tried for a long time to participate in the NAA, so we were very happy when it came through, and we even went so far as to pay our annual membership fees,” a senior Taiwanese government official told the FT.

But the effort collapsed after the NAA invited three Taiwanese officers to attend an event on September 8. Captain Zhang Meng, China’s naval attaché, responded to the invitation with a furious demand that the Taiwanese officers be disbanded, and Taiwan removed from the membership list. .

“It is outrageous to note that three Taiwanese military personnel have been invited,” Zhang wrote in a warning to the attachés. “If the Taiwanese personnel are not delisted from the NAA list and the invitation is not revoked, there is no doubt that your military personnel in Beijing will be adversely affected.”

Captain Pablo Murga Gomez, the Spanish naval attaché who is the NAA chairman, initially pushed back and defended the invitation, but the group later withdrew the invitation. Weeks later, Gomez wrote to his then-Taiwanese counterpart, Vince Hsu, saying that Taiwan could not become a member.

“We have thoroughly studied Tecro’s members’ situation in this country and we can not find the right place in the Navy Attaché Association’s bylaws to accommodate it,” Gomez said in an email.

“Your membership fees have not been exchanged yet, so probably the most convenient is that your tip checks should be destroyed and we will get back to you as soon as the situation is further adjusted to our ordinances,” Gomez added.

A Taiwanese person familiar with the situation confirmed that Taipei “was eventually disenfranchised and our fees were refunded”.

Taiwanese officials said Tecro had appealed to the State Department for support, but was told the U.S. government could not help because the NAA is a private association.

Chinese military officers have accused the US of tacitly supporting the NAA’s decision to include Taiwan. “Even after the Chinese side expressed its strong opposition and protest, the American side allowed the NAA to make sense of it by defending the NAA’s actions,” one Chinese assistant military attaché wrote.

China’s embassy did not comment, but said Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China remained unchanged.

The U.S. move to suspend participation in NAA events could render the club useless because its main activities are networking with U.S. officials. One Navy official said he had “become aware of a campaign by the PRC to influence an NAA board vote affecting the inclusivity of the organization”.

The NAA website recently ceased to function. In early January, however, it showed that three breakfasts scheduled for the September event that would have had top U.S. officials as speakers had all been canceled.

Gomez did not respond to requests for comment. Captain Gianfranco Vizzini, the Italian naval attaché and NAA vice-president, declined to comment. Tecro also declined to comment.

Follow Catherine Hille and Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter





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