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Inside The Biden Administration's Policy On China And Taiwan

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

NPR China correspondent John Ruwitch has this report.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Wang Hao is a writer and commentator in Taiwan who had been hopeful that Donald Trump would be reelected as U.S. president.

WANG HAO: Since Richard Nixon, Donald Trump probably did the most in terms of intense U.S.-Taiwan relations.

RUWITCH: Wang wasn't alone. A poll there showed people in Taiwan preferred Trump to Joe Biden. It was widely covered in Taiwanese media.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: The now former president was seen by many as the toughest U.S. leader on China in years and appreciated because he deepened America's ties with Taiwan, sending senior officials to visit and selling the island more arms in four years than President Obama did in eight.

WANG: We hope he would win because we think he needs more time to implement his policies, particularly in terms of change the U.S. foreign policy directions.

RUWITCH: So far, Biden appears to be continuing the approach - tough on China while demonstrating commitment to Taiwan. Taiwan's representative to the U.S. was invited to Biden's inauguration. And when China flew a dozen warplanes into airspace claimed by Taiwan less than a week into Biden's term, the State Department said America's commitment to the island was, quote, "rock solid."

James Lin is a Taiwan historian at the University of Washington.

JAMES LIN: The Biden administration may not make as much of a reset with regards to U.S.-Taiwan relations as some - especially people in Taiwan are fearing.

RUWITCH: Experts say the approach so far is calibrated. It shows support for allies in the region while aiming to maintain stability.

LIN: You have the symbolism of treating U.S. allies - because Taiwan is very much a U.S. ally, just like Korea and Japan are - with the kind of treatment that these other allies are hoping that they would also receive, but also not upsetting the current dynamics too much.

RUWITCH: Beijing may have been hoping for more. The Communist Party's top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, gave a speech to a U.S. audience by teleconference this week. He said the new administration should choose a different path from that taken by Trump. Here he is speaking through an interpreter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YANG JIECHI: (Through interpreter) We need to respect each other, seek common ground while putting aside differences, keep disagreements under effective control and expand common interests. If we follow this approach, I am convinced that the China-U.S. relationship will embark on a path of improvement and development.

RUWITCH: To be sure, some things have begun to change in the U.S. approach to China.

RYAN HASS: I think it's important to, you know, just for us to keep in mind, that nobody has called the Chinese jackbooted thugs in the past week. Nobody has referred to COVID-19 as kung flu or the China virus.

RUWITCH: Ryan Hass is a China expert at the Brookings Institution. He says the tone is already different.

HASS: Nobody is trying to jump up and down and draw attention to it. It's just part of a shift from an emotional policy towards China, towards a more purposeful policy towards China.

RUWITCH: And that goes for Taiwan policy, too, he says.

HASS: My expectation is that there won't be the same sort of daily high-decibel level of expressions of love from Washington to Taipei.

RUWITCH: From Wang's perspective in Taiwan, that's OK.

WANG: I think that public opinion in Taiwan obviously is willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

RUWITCH: The benefit of the doubt for now at least. John Ruwitch, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.