A bipartisan group of US lawmakers proposed matching bills in the Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday (3 February) that would require the United States to negotiate the renaming of Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington as the “Taiwan Representative Office,” a move certain to anger China.
It is currently called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), using the name of the island’s capital city.
Should the measures become law, any change in the office’s name could provide cover to smaller countries to take similar steps to boost engagement with Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.
It would also be certain to create a new rift in US-China relations, already at their lowest point in decades as Washington seeks to push back against what it sees as Beijing’s growing economic and military coercion.
The United States, like most countries, does not have official ties with democratically governed Taiwan but is its most prominent international backer.
The bills direct the Secretary of State to “seek to enter into negotiations” with TECRO to rename its office as the “Taiwan Representative Office.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio and the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez sponsored the Senate bill, with Republican John Curtis and Democrat Chris Pappas leading on the House version.
“The U.S. must make clear that, despite all efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to intimidate and coerce Taiwan, hostile powers have no right to claim sovereignty over democratic countries,” Rubio said.
Menendez told Reuters the bills were consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act defining the United States’ unofficial ties with Taiwan and demonstrate Washington’s support for Taiwan “to determine its own future.”
“We must take this step to strengthen our diplomatic partnership with Taiwan and counter China’s repeated attempts to threaten and coerce nations around the globe,” Pappas said.
The White House and US State Department, and China’s embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
China chafes at any international references to Taiwan it suggests the island is its own country.
It downgraded its diplomatic relations with Lithuania and pressed multinationals to sever ties with the country after Taiwan opened an office in Vilnius last year called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.
Last week, Lithuanian officials looked at the possibility of asking their Taiwanese counterparts to modify the Chinese translation of the embassy’s de facto name. Taiwan has other offices in Europe and the US but uses the name of the city Taipei rather than that of the island itself.
Modifying the Chinese version of the representation name to refer to “Taiwanese people” rather than to Taiwan was last week proposed by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis to President Gitanas Nauseda to reduce the tensions with China, sources said.
The change, which would bring the name in line with Lithuanian and English, would need Taiwan’s agreement.
But this move would likely not be enough for Beijing.
Chinese tabloid newspaper the Global Times published an article on Saturday (22 January) saying that “it will take much more than just renaming the office” for Lithuania to mend its relationship with China.
“Lithuania needs to make substantial adjustments to its overall China policy, rather than completely follow the U.S.’ agenda,” said the article in The Global Times, which is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Meanwhile, Slovenia is mulling closer ties with Taiwan, much to the annoyance of China. On 19 January, Prime Minister. Janez Janša announced the two were working on “exchanging representatives” while criticising China’s response to Taiwan’s diplomatic representation in Vilnius.
China reacted against Slovenia’s plan to forge closer ties with Taiwan, labelling Prime Minister Janez Janša’s recent statements about Slovenia being in talks to open a representative office on the island as “dangerous”.
“The Slovenian leader has openly made a dangerous statement challenging the One-China principle, supporting ‘Taiwan independence”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday (19 January).
He reiterated China’s long-standing policy that Taiwan was “an inseparable part of China’s territory” and China’s government “the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China.”
Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to ensure eventual unification with Taiwan, calls the island’s status the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations and the basis for ties between the two superpowers.