Deleted Taiwan Tweet Is a Diplomatic Disappointment and a Concession to China

(Oleksii Liskonih/Getty Images)

After tweeting a message about America’s COVID vaccine donations to the world that included an image of the Taiwanese flag, the Biden administration has deleted the post and apologized for its “honest mistake.” Per Reuters:

Taiwan has asked its office in Washington to remind the United States not to cause “unnecessary speculation or misunderstanding” after the White House deleted a social media post on COVID-19 vaccine donations that included Taiwan’s flag.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council called the use of the flag “an honest mistake” by the team handling graphics and social media that should not be viewed as a shift in U.S. policy towards Taipei, under which Washington does not formally recognise Taiwan’s government.

The White House COVID-19 Response Team this week posted on Twitter an image giving details of U.S. vaccine donations globally, including last month’s Moderna shots sent to Taiwan. It showed the island’s flag along with those of others getting vaccines.

President Biden has earned well-deserved praise for his strong support of Taiwan since taking office, even surprising China hawks who had lower expectations for the president’s handling of this issue. In addition to the donation of 2.5 million vaccine doses, his team invited Taipei’s representative in Washington to the inauguration, approved an arms-sale package to Taiwan, and issued critical statements about Beijing’s continued military intimidation of the country. Much of this has been seen as a continuation of the previous administration’s work to bolster Taiwan’s military capabilities in the face of an eventual Chinese attack.

But deleting the tweet, then publicly signaling it was a “mistake,” is itself a blunder. White House press secretary Jen Psaki also called it an “honest mistake” yesterday, adding “we remain committed to the One China policy.” The tweet, however, was not a reversal of the One China policy, under which the U.S. maintains unofficial ties with Taiwan. Only the Chinese Communist Party, seeking to use the post as a political cudgel, would have strained to describe it as such. So why did the White House need to be so vocal about its walk-back of the tweet, if not to assuage fears about angering China? Why did it need to delete the tweet at all?

We’ve moved past the days when provoking the party’s ire was considered a reasonable rationale for anything. In the early days of this administration, officials showed commendably few qualms about jettisoning that flawed logic — which makes this episode all the more disappointing.

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