U.S. Ambassador Visits Taiwan for First Trip Since 1979

Trump lifted ban on travel to Taiwan in final days of his term

The Taiwanese flag / Getty Images
March 30, 2021

The Biden administration sent an ambassador on a diplomatic trip to Taiwan, an action made possible by changes to diplomatic rules made in the final days of the Trump administration.

On Monday, President Biden sent U.S. ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland to Taiwan, marking the first visit to the island nation by an American ambassador since 1979. The visit comes months after a flurry of actions from the Trump administration that strengthened diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the United States.

In the final days of the administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted several long-standing bans on official U.S. diplomatic engagement with the country. Pompeo planned to send former U.N. ambassador Kelly Craft to Taiwan in January as a capstone event to rebuilding ties with the country, but, after citing the Biden transition, he canceled all State Department travel.

Biden, however, appears prepared to pick up where the Trump administration left off. Though the president and some of his top advisers have a history of not supporting America’s commitments to Taiwan, the administration has leaned into protecting the nation as military threats from China grow.

The visit from Hennessey-Niland comes soon after House Republicans sent a letter to the Biden administration demanding increased support for Taiwan. Several senior military leaders also testified before Congress in March that China's first priority is to invade Taiwan, potentially "in the next six years," and the United States may not be able to defend the country.

Taiwan’s ability to defend itself could receive assistance from a muscular American defense budget. It is unclear, however, if the Biden administration will follow through on this effort. Several actions by congressional Democrats indicate that President Biden may cap the defense budget at flat levels, likely limiting America’s ability to defend Taiwan.