Since then, the regional geopolitical climate has grown much tenser, fed by a series of confrontations between Japan and China over the disputed islets and escalating friction between Beijing and a number of Southeast Asian countries over expanding Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Under its ‘‘Pacific Pivot’’ policy, Washington has expanded military exercises in the region and placed important military resources in strategic Asian locations, but it has made no mention at all of the chain and avoided taking sides in the territorial disputes.
Treating the chain as a relic seems a dubious proposition here in Suao, which looks out onto a broad expanse of open water that Chinese naval vessels often cross en route to the Pacific. On a recent weekday morning, three Taiwanese corvettes lolled placidly in its waters, just to the west of a breakwater.
But the U.S. ended its direct military relationship with Taiwan in the run-up to the transfer of its recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, effectively removing Taiwan from the first island chain, and few analysts expect it will be reintegrated anytime soon.
‘‘I think we have come to a point where maintaining cordial ties with China trumps lesser concerns for many in official Washington,’’ said James Holmes of the U.S. Naval War college in Newport, Rhode Island, writing in an email. ‘‘No U.S. government agency sees a pressing stake in Taiwan anymore.’’