This story is being published by POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on SCMP on May 31, 2018.
Taiwan sent senior military officials to Hawaii for a ceremony marking Admiral Harry Harris handing over the reins of the U.S. Pacific Command to Admiral Phil Davidson.
Their attendance has prompted speculation over whether Taiwan could for the first time be invited to join the biennial U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercise to be held off Hawaii in summer. The Pentagon last week withdrew Beijing’s invitation to take part in the international maritime war games “as an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea.”
As well as the leadership change, the command was also renamed as the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, a move reflecting the growing importance of India in the region.
Two senior military officials led Taiwan’s small delegation attending the ceremony on Wednesday at Joint Base Pearl Harbour-Hickam, a government source said on Thursday.
“They represented the military and took part in the event at the invitation of the U.S. Pacific Command,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said it was not the first time senior Taiwanese military officials had been invited to take part in events held by the U.S. Pacific Command.
“It is actually not unusual for Taiwanese officers to be invited to take part in military events or short-term training on U.S. soil, or even in computer-simulated war games, though the authorities on both sides are low-key about these activities,” the source said.
He would not say who had represented the island at the ceremony, but deputy defense minister General Shen Yi-ming was seen in attendance on a live stream of the event on the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s official Facebook page.
Taiwanese media reported that Admiral Lee Hsi-ming, chief of the general staff, was the second official attending the ceremony.
Asked by lawmakers if the defense ministry sent the pair to the ceremony, defense minister Yen De-fa said only that it was “not convenient to disclose anything as it involves a tacit commitment between the two sides.”
But Yen said Taiwan had put in an official request to join the Rim of the Pacific exercise, and with mainland troops no longer taking part it could be a good opportunity for the island.
“Of course, the decision rests with the U.S.,” he told legislators on Wednesday.
The People’s Liberation Army has taken part in the last two Rim of the Pacific exercises, the world’s biggest international maritime war games, in 2014 and 2016.