The announcement comes ahead of a planned trip to Taiwan by the US ambassador to the UN that has drawn China’s anger.
The United States will end its decades-old restrictions on official contact with Taiwan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, a move in the dying days of President Donald Trump’s administration that is sure to put angry China.
In a Saturday statement, Pompeo said the US State Department had for decades “created complex internal restrictions to regulate the interactions of our diplomats, military personnel and other officials with their Taiwanese counterparts.”
“The United States government has taken these steps unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing,” he said. “No more.”
The significance of the change in practice was unclear, with Pompeo asserting that the executive branch’s communications with Taiwan would be handled by the American Taiwan Institute (AIT), which is owned by the U.S. government and serves as the de facto embassy for Taiwan.
Taipei’s United States Economic and Cultural Representation Office in Washington, DC, which serves as Taiwan’s unofficial embassy, said the move showed “the strength and depth” of the US-Taiwan relationship.
However, the statement – which comes less than two weeks before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden – is expected to shock China, which sees Taiwan as its own home and has worked to keep it isolated on the world stage.
It also happened days before Kelly Craft, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, visited the island from January 13-15. Craft will be the top US official to do so.
Today, I lift all self-imposed restrictions on the interactions of executive agencies with their counterparts in Taiwan. This action will benefit our two great democracies. https://t.co/JmxE5jsZYf
– Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 9, 2021
The United States has always kept Taiwan at bay to help maintain ties with China.
However, relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated over the past four years, with Trump accepting a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on December 2, 2016, setting the tone.
Since, experts said the United States has increasingly used Taiwan as a stick in the midst of acrimony.
This week, China warned the Trump administration that it would pay a “heavy price” if Craft’s planned visit took place. “The United States will pay a heavy price for its bad deed,” the Chinese mission to the UN said in a statement.
“China strongly urges the United States to end its insane provocation, to stop creating new difficulties for Sino-American relations… and to stop going further down the wrong track.
Taiwan has benefited from the discord, with record arms sales to the United States and visits from other officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Last year, Trump also enacted Taiwan’s Insurance Law, which deepens US-Taiwan relations even though the two do not maintain formal diplomatic ties.
Analysts said Craft’s next visit is likely to be more symbolic than impactful, as it comes days before Biden takes office and Taiwan officials are eagerly awaiting how he approaches the relationship.