TAIPEI: Taiwan's relationship with its most important global backer the United States has gotten off to a strong start with President Joe Biden's new administration, after the island's de facto ambassador was formally invited to attend his inauguration on Wednesday (Jan 20).
Former President Donald Trump's administration ramped up support for Taiwan, increasing arms sales and sending senior officials to Taipei, angering China and stirring even greater enmity from Beijing towards Washington.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen secured an unprecedented phone call with Trump after his 2016 election win, a move that infuriated Beijing.
Trump's embrace of warmer ties with the island made him a popular figure in democratic Taiwan, which China views as its own territory to be taken by force if needed. It unnerved the Taiwanese government that Biden may not be as helpful.
Emily Horne, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the US commitment to Taiwan was "rock-solid", after the island's de facto ambassador in Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, attended Biden's swearing in.
"President Biden will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security and values in the Asia-Pacific region - and that includes Taiwan."
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry lauded the attendance of Hsiao, who is close to Tsai.
"The first-ever invitation to Taiwan's representative to the US to attend the Inaugural Ceremonies, the most significant event celebrating US democracy, highlights the close and cordial ties between Taiwan and the United States based on shared values," it said.
The US ended formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, switching recognition to China, though Washington is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
Beijing balks at any official contacts with Taiwan and tries to keep the island diplomatically isolated. Since 1979, US presidencies have generally trod a cautious diplomatic path on Taiwan in a bid to avoid angering Beijing and discourage Taipei from ever formally declaring independence.
In a video message on her Twitter account, Hsiao said she was honoured to be at the inauguration representing Taiwan's government and people.
"Democracy is our common language and freedom is our common objective," she said, speaking in English.
Tsai sent her congratulations too, saying she hoped the two sides could work together to maintain regional democracy, freedom, peace and stability, Taiwan's presidential office said.
Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday that he was in favour of greater engagement with Taiwan.
Tsai met Blinken in 2015 at the State Department when he was deputy secretary of state and she was the presidential candidate for Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party.
Protecting the island from an invasion became one of the few issues to receive broad bipartisan support during the polarised Trump years, and politicians on both sides of the aisle have called on Biden to be more proactive in maintaining Taiwan's freedoms.
Jim Risch, the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed Hsiao's invitation to the inauguration.
"I commend the new administration for this invitation and encourage them to build upon the progress made on US-Taiwan relations to reflect the challenges and geopolitical realities we face," he wrote on Twitter.