TAIPEI, Taiwan—Relations between Washington and Taipei have elevated to a level not seen in decades, reflected in a name change of the Taiwan government’s de facto organization for handling Taiwan-U.S. relations.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the name change on its official Twitter account on May 25, saying that the embassy will now be called the Taiwan Council for US Affairs (TCUSA); it had been known as the Coordination Council for North American Affairs (CCNAA).
“This marks the first time the terms ‘Taiwan’ and the ‘United States’ appear in equal footing on the name of an organization together,” Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said in an announcement. “This manifests the close relationship enjoyed by the U.S. and Taiwan and the level of trust between the two.”
The United States currently has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan; Washington changed its diplomatic recognition in favor of Beijing in January 1979.
China considers itself the only legitimate “republic,” claiming Taiwan as a renegade province, despite the latter being a de facto independent country with democratically elected officials and a separate constitution, military, and currency. Because Beijing has never renounced its desire to take over Taiwan, including through the use of military force, the Pentagon has continually sold arms to the island for self-defense.
The Pentagon announced earlier this year that it has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
Since then, the United States has maintained a non-diplomatic relationship with Taipei based on the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which was signed into law by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in April 1979.
The building that was the U.S. embassy in Taiwan was abandoned following the U.S.’s switch in diplomatic recognition to Beijing. Then, under the TRA, Washington established the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT), responsible for implementing U.S. policy toward Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Taiwan established the CCNAA as AIT’s counterpart in March 1979.
CCNAA is located in Taipei City, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its main U.S. office is located in Washington, with 12 satellite offices located throughout the United States and its territories, including New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Guam.
Taiwan President Tsai confirmed the name change in a post on her official Facebook page, several hours after the foreign affairs ministry’s Twitter announcement.
In her post, Tsai explained that Taiwan had previously used the term “North America” instead of “U.S.” in naming AIT’s counterpart, due to the difficult diplomatic circumstances at the time—hinting at pressure from Beijing regarding Taiwan’s relationship with the United States. She explained that the name change was the result of a great deal of “discussion and effort” by Taiwan and the United States, with the final announcement coinciding with the 40th anniversary of TRA.
By agreeing to the name change, the current U.S. administration wants to further improve ties with Taiwan, Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s former foreign affairs minister, said in an interview with Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily. That also signals that Tsai wants to see better bilateral ties with Washington.
Chen added that the name change is politically significant, given that the Taiwan-U.S. relationship has never been just about the two sides—it also involves Beijing.
The name change is part of a series of measures by Washington in response to “a rising China,” Chen said, in addition to the ongoing Sino-U.S. trade war and the maritime dispute over the South China Sea.
On the same day that the name change was announced, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said that its national security chief, David Lee, met with White House national security adviser John Bolton, during Lee’s recent trip to the United States from May 13 to 21.
According to Taiwan’s media Central News Agency (CNA), the meeting was the first of its kind since 1979. During the trip, Lee reiterated Taiwan’s support and commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Taiwan’s strategic location is key to the U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific. From a military standpoint, for example, Taiwan’s navy and air force act as a counterbalance to the Chinese military’s ambitious goals in the Pacific Ocean.
The U.S. government under President Donald Trump has recently bolstered ties with Taiwan, including with the passage of the “Taiwan Travel Act,” which encourages high-level official exchanges between Taipei and Washington.
Lee also met with unidentified scholars who specialize in Asia-related topics from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Brookings Institution, and Georgetown University, all of which are based in Washington, according to CNA.
Accompanied by U.S. officials, Lee also met with unidentified officials from countries that are Taiwan’s diplomatic allies. Though the foreign affairs ministry didn’t name these allies, CNA said that it was likely that they were from Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, given that officials from those countries were visiting the United States at that time.
On May 15, the Wall Street Journal reported that the presidents of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, would meet with Trump at the White House on May 21.
The White House released a joint statement with the three nations’ presidents on May 21, where they reaffirmed their joint interests in a “free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.”
Wang Ting-yu, a legislator of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, said in a Facebook post on May 25 that he applauded the Tsai administration for the major diplomatic breakthroughs: the CCNAA name change, Lee’s meeting with Bolton, and the meeting with diplomatic allies accompanied by U.S. officials—all are firsts of their kind since 1979.