Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he’s lifting restrictions on contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts, in a move likely to increase tensions with China in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s presidency.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory, and regularly describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
While the United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up backing for the island country, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.
In a statement, Pompeo said that for several decades the State Department had created complex internal restrictions on interactions with Taiwanese counterparts by American diplomats, service members and other officials.
“The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions,” he added.
The move appeared to be an effort by Pompeo and Trump’s Republican administration to lock in a tough approach to China before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.
Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said examples of the restrictions included Taiwanese officials not being able to enter the State Department, but instead having to meet at hotels.
“The Biden administration will rightly be unhappy that a policy decision like this was made in the final days of the Trump administration,” Glaser said.
An official with Biden’s transition said that once Biden was in office he would continue to support “a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.”
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States in Washington, which serves as Taiwan’s unofficial embassy, said the move showed the “strength and depth” of the United States’ relationship with Taiwan.
“Decades of discrimination, removed. A huge day in our bilateral relationship. I will cherish every opportunity,” Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington, tweeted
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, will visit Taiwan next week for meetings with senior Taiwanese leaders, prompting China to warn on Thursday they were playing with fire.