US risks angering China by easing limits on relations with Taiwan

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Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, has lifted long-standing restrictions that limit U.S. diplomatic relations with Taiwan, to an extent that is likely to praise China days before the Biden administration takes over. power.

Washington cut ties with Taiwan in 1979 in favor of those with China, which views the autonomous and democratic country as its own territory. As successive US administrations have relaxed diplomatic restrictions and sold arms to Taiwan, Mr. Pompeo’s action goes further than any in the past.

“Today I am announcing that I am lifting all these self-imposed restrictions,” Pompeo said in a statement on Saturday. He added that government agencies should regard all such “contact guidelines” previously issued by the State Department as “null and void.”

Although the United States does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, contacts between the two are governed by an unpublished set of codes that limit where officials can meet and even how correspondence is conducted. .

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“The United States government has taken these steps unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing,” Pompeo added. ” No more. ”

Mr Pompeo, who is due to travel to Europe next week to voice his concerns over China, has led the Trump administration’s hawkish turn against Beijing, demanding allies on the US side and declaring an end to “l ‘blind engagement’ with Asian power.

China did not immediately comment on the decision. But he condemned this week’s announcement that Kelly Craft, the United States’ ambassador to the UN, would visit Taiwan next week as a “mad provocation.” This suggested that the United States was playing with fire.

Both moves seemed to mark a victory for Taiwan, which has spent months pushing for closer ties. Taiwan’s diplomatic office in Washington said the State Department’s action reflects “the strength and depth” of Taiwan-U.S. Relations and looks forward to “expanding” the partnership in the United States. the months and years to come.

Elbridge Colby, one of the architects of the Trump administration’s tougher stance against China, said the move freed the relationship from “anachronistic bureaucratic structures” and argued that it would allow the couple to work ” more effectively ”in defense. The Trump and Obama administrations have sold large bundles of weapons to the island.

But Evan Medeiros, a former Obama official who worked on US-China relations, called the move a “first-rate PR coup” that would inflame Beijing and damage relations with Taiwan.

“He does nothing two weeks before the inauguration but politicizes the Taiwan question – to the detriment of Taiwan,” he said. “If Pompeo is so convinced, why didn’t he do this a year ago and stay on to deal with the fallout?”

Mr Medeiros added that Beijing would likely wait to see what the new Biden administration has done before taking retaliatory action.

Bonnie Glaser, Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described the policy change as “a precedent-setting decision” that an outgoing administration should not make in its final days in office.

“Taking him now looks like he’s destined to box in Team Biden,” she said.

Critics have accused the Trump administration of trying to hamper Team Biden’s wiggle room. Last month, the United States broke with the convention by recognizing Western Sahara and is reportedly considering designating Cuba as the sponsor state of terrorism and Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, a move some say would complicate efforts to resolve the conflict.

David Stilwell, senior Asia official at the State Department, told the Financial Times that Taiwan’s decision was the result of a long examination of the relationship. He denied that the decision was rushed in the last days of the administration. “It has been busy. We had a lot to do, ”he said.

“We have tried to rectify the overall relationship between the United States and China and this is one more step in that direction,” he added. He urged the Biden administration, which has pledged to take a tougher line on China than previous Democratic administrations, to maintain the new policy.

A Biden transition official said the president-elect made it clear during the election campaign that he was committed to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which defined relations with the country, and to politics. from one China.

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

“He has long said that US support for Taiwan must remain strong, principled, and bipartisan, and he plans to work to achieve that.”

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