Under shadow of Ukraine invasion, US delegation signals support for Taiwan

Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, right, greets former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen at Taipei Songshan Airport in Taiwan on March 1, 2022.

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Taipei, Taiwan (CNN)As the world focuses on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a delegation of former US officials has signaled American support for another democracy that's come under increasing pressure from an authoritarian power.

The former defense and security officials, led by ex-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, met with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday during a two-day visit to the self-ruled island -- which has expressed its solidarity with Ukraine.
"The Ukrainian people's commitment to protect freedom and democracy and their fearless dedication to defending their country have been met with deep empathy from the people of Taiwan, as we too stand on the front line of the battle for democracy," Tsai said in remarks Wednesday before the meeting.
    "History teaches us if we turn a blind eye to military aggression, we only worsen the threats to ourselves. Now is the time for all democracies around the world to come together."
      Analysts have drawn comparisons between the authoritarian threat to Ukraine and Taiwan, which is located fewer than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from China's southeastern coast. In Ukraine, that danger has been realized with unprovoked military action. In Taiwan's case, China's ruling Communist Party seeks eventual "reunification" -- by force if necessary -- with the island it claims as its territory despite having never governed it.
      A protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in front of the Representative Office of Russia in Taipei, Taiwan on February 26.
      The timing of the former US officials' visit appeared poised to assuage Taipei's fears about its own future, with Mullen, a retired admiral who was a top military adviser to former US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, saying he hoped the visit would "reassure" Taiwan.
      "I do hope by being here with you, we can reassure you and your people, as well as our allies and partners in the region, that the United States stands firm behind its commitments," Mullen said, in an apparent reference to Washington's longstanding support for Taiwan's defense.
        "We come to Taiwan at a very difficult and critical moment in world history. As (US) President (Joe) Biden has said, democracy is facing sustained and alarming challenges, most recently in Ukraine. Now more than ever, democracy needs champions."

        Taiwan's support for Ukraine

        The escalating conflict in Ukraine has loomed large in Taiwanese news coverage and evoked an outpouring of sympathy from the Taiwanese public across the political aisle.
        Since last week, dozens of protesters gathered outside Russia's representative office in Taipei on three separate days, waving the Ukrainian flag and placards reading "no war." Skylines in Taiwanese cities were also lit up in blue and yellow -- the colors of Ukraine's flag -- including the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper.
        For its part, Tsai's government has swiftly condemned the Russian invasion, while Premier Su Tseng-chang said Tuesday that Taiwan would block some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments system "in lockstep" with economic penalties imposed by Western countries. They had also sent medical aid to Ukraine, Su said.
        According to the government, major Taiwanese chipmakers -- which account for more than half of the world's output of semiconductor chips -- have all pledged to comply with sanctions against Russia.
        In comments Wednesday, after meeting with the US delegation, Tsai said Taiwan would set up a donation account for Ukraine and that she, Su, and Vice President William Lai would each donate a month's salary.

        'Rock-solid relationship'

        Relations between Taipei and Beijing are at their lowest point in decades.
        In recent months, China's military has sent record numbers of warplanes into the air around Taiwan while diplomats and state-run media warned of a possible invasion unless the island toes the Chinese Communist Party's line.
        Tsai has said Taiwan's military must maintain a high level of vigilance and monitor activities on the Taiwan Strait, in light of security concerns linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which came weeks after a high-profile meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.