US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced the State Department will lift long-standing restrictions on how American diplomats and others have contact with their counterparts in Taiwan, another move that upset China as the Trump administration winds to an end.
The Trump administration has sought to strengthen bilateral relations with Taiwan. It announced Thursday that UN Ambassador Kelly Craft would go to Taiwan, a move that sparked sharp criticism from Beijing and a warning that the US would pay a heavy price.
In August, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the first Cabinet member to visit Taiwan since 2014.
Mr Pompeo noted the State Department had created complex restrictions over contacts between the US and Taiwan which were taken to appease the Communist regime in Beijing.
“No more,” Mr Pompeo declared in a statement. “Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions.”
The Chinese government maintains that mainland China and Taiwan are parts of “one China”.
China has been stepping up its threats to bring the self-governing island under its control by military force with frequent war games and aerial patrols. It has been using its diplomatic clout to stop Taiwan from joining any organisations that require statehood for membership.
Mr Pompeo said the US maintains relationships with unofficial partners around the world, and Taiwan is no exception.
“Our two democracies share common values of individual freedom, the rule of law, and a respect for human dignity,” Mr Pompeo said.
“Today’s statement recognises that the US-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy.”
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu welcomed the move.
“I’m grateful to @SecPompeo & @StateDept for lifting restrictions unnecessarily limiting our engagements these past years,” Mr Wu said in a retweet of a Pompeo tweet about the announcement.
China’s state media lashed out at the latest move on Taiwan, accusing Mr Pompeo of “seeking to maliciously inflict a long-lasting scar on China-US ties”.
A writer for the official Xinhua News Agency also said in a commentary that the lifting of long-standing restrictions on US government contacts with Taiwanese counterparts proves that Mr Pompeo “is only interested in stoking unwarranted confrontations, and has no interest in world peace”.
Another commentary posted online by CGTN, the English-language channel of state broadcaster CCTV, called Mr Pompeo’s announcement “a cowardly act of sabotage” of the next US administration.
“The Trump administration, in its continuing efforts to burn the house down before leaving office, has crossed a dangerous red line with China days before incoming President Joe Biden takes office,” the commentary read.