US to relax meeting restrictions with Taiwanese officials

U.S. officials can meet more freely with their Taiwanese counterparts under new guidelines from the Biden administration, as part of the White House’s latest move to control China’s increased aggression in the region.

The new rules, which were released by the U.S. State Department on Friday, according to U.S. officials, will ease decades-old restrictions that have hampered meetings between U.S. and Taiwanese diplomats.

The State Department’s move comes amid growing tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan, with Beijing strengthening its military posture around the island in recent months. Senior U.S. military and civilian officials have expressed concern that China flirt with the idea of ​​invading Taiwan.

State Department spokesman Ned Price stressed that “Taiwan is a dynamic democracy and an important economic and security partner who is also a positive force within the international community.”

A US official said the guidelines were intended to “encourage interactions” between US and Taiwanese officials. The guidelines had previously highlighted what was not possible in bilateral meetings, the official added.

Washington has maintained restrictions on meetings with Taiwanese officials since it transferred China’s diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. As China has become increasingly assertive towards Taiwan, the United States has become more assertive towards Taiwan. become less strict on guidelines.

In January, Mike Pompeo, then Secretary of State, eliminated the guidelines. This created confusion, however, as government agencies received little advice and the Trump administration was in its final weeks.

It was also unclear how the move fit with the US “One China” policy, which states that the government of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing is “the only legal government” of China.

Under the new guidelines, U.S. officials will be able to regularly accommodate Taiwanese officials in federal government buildings. They will also be allowed to meet with their counterparts at Taiwan’s economic and cultural offices, which de facto serve as embassies and consulates.

U.S. officials will also be able to attend events at Twin Oaks, a 17-acre estate in Washington that served as the residence of the Ambassador of the Republic of China (Taiwan) until the United States transferred diplomatic recognition. in Beijing.

But the US official said there would still be “safeguards,” such as not allowing officials to attend functions at Twin Oaks on major Taiwanese holidays, which could complicate politics. of a unique China. Another will be the ban on displaying the Taiwanese flag when US officials meet with their counterparts.

“We brought the guardrails back, but they are much further apart, so both sides (Beijing and Taipei) should be happy,” the official said.

However, officials will no longer have to use unmarked government letterhead to communicate with Taiwanese officials.

The new guidelines mark the latest effort to boost support for Taipei as the Chinese military attempts to intimidate Taiwan by flying large numbers of fighter jets, bombers and spy planes in its area. air defense identification. President Joe Biden and his officials have made it clear to China that US support for Taiwan remains “rock solid.”

It also underscores how much Biden is taking a tougher stance on China than many expected. Biden became the first US president to invite the Taiwanese representative in Washington to a presidential swearing-in ceremony when Hsiao Bi-khim attended his inauguration in January.

Hsiao praised the move on Friday. “I look forward to taking advantage of new opportunities to work together to deepen the relationship”, she tweeted.

As Biden reviewed the guidelines in recent months, there were signs he would take a more flexible approach than under the Obama administration.

Joseph Young, the acting U.S. ambassador to Japan, recently welcomed his Taiwanese counterpart to his Tokyo residence and made the visit public on Twitter, echoing a similar move by Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands after the ‘Pompeo announcement.

Last month, the U.S. envoy to Palau became the first U.S. ambassador to visit Taiwan since 1979, accompanying the president of Palau – one of only 15 countries to recognize Taipei rather than Beijing – to Taipei. The visit to Palau technically took place without any directives in place, as the Biden administration was reviewing the policy inherited from Trump.

During his confirmation hearing, Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, said he wanted to create “more space” for contacts between US and Taiwanese officials. Congress passed the Taiwan Assurance Act in December, which required the State Department to review the guidelines within 180 days.

To pursue Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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