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Pompeo lifts US-Taiwan restrictions in move likely to anger China | Taiwan

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Secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Saturday said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts, a move likely to anger China and increase tensions between Beijing and Washington in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

China claims democratic and separately ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and regularly describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the US.

While the US, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up support, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.

In a statement, Pompeo said that for several decades the US 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. “Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions.”

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 US relationship with Taiwan.

“Decades of discrimination, removed,” Taiwan’s representative in the US, Bi-khim Hsiao, said on Twitter. “A huge day in our bilateral relationship. I will cherish every opportunity.”

The guidelines set out restrictions including where representatives of either government could meet, and limited the ranks allowed to attend Taiwan’s national day celebrations. It also said the US should not refer to Taiwan as a “country” or “government”.

In recent years the guidelines have been followed less and less, and the official change was not unexpected. The Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019 noted the self-imposed restrictions had “resulted in insufficient high-level communication”, and mandated a review within 180 days, and a reissuing of the guidelines.

A spokesperson for the Biden transition team told the Financial Times the incoming president was “committed to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act” which defined relations between the two governments, and to the US’s one-China policy.

“Once in office, he will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan,” the spokesperson said.

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 that the Trump administration was playing with fire.

Chinese fighter jets approached the island in August and September during the last two visits: by US health secretary Alex Azar and under secretary of state Keith Krach.

The US is Taiwan’s strongest international backer and arms supplier, and is obliged to help provide it with the means to defend itself under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

“Today’s statement recognizes that the US-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy,” Pompeo said.



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