Washington, Jan 10 (PTI) The US has lifted the 'self-imposed restrictions' on contacts between American and Taiwanese diplomats and officials, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced, ending a long-standing policy to 'appease' China.
The move on Taiwan is likely to anger China and increase tensions between Washington and Beijing as the Trump administration enters its final days ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as president on January 20.
China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland, even by force. But Taiwan's leaders assert that it is a sovereign state.
In a statement on Saturday, Pompeo said, “for several decades the State Department has created complex internal restrictions to regulate our diplomats, service members, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts.” The US has maintained close ties with Taiwan since it split from mainland China in 1949 after the end of a civil war.
But until recently Washington has avoided major displays of friendship so as to not antagonise Beijing, which continues to view the self-governing democracy of around 24 million people as an inseparable part of its territory.
Referring to Taiwan as a “reliable” and “unofficial” partner, Pompeo, a staunch critic of China, added that the US executive branch agencies should consider “contact guidelines” regarding relations with Taiwan previously issued by the State Department to be “null and void.” 'The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing. No more,' he said.
'Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions,' the US top diplomat said.
The United States government maintains relationships with unofficial partners around the world, and Taiwan is no exception, he said.
'Our two democracies share common values of individual freedom, the rule of law, and a respect for human dignity. Today’s statement recognises that the US-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy,' Pompeo said.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, is set to visit Taiwan this week to 'reinforce the US government's strong and ongoing support for Taiwan's international space,' Pompeo announced last week.
The latest move by the US has been welcomed by Taiwan.
'I'm grateful to @SecPompeo & StateDept for lifting restrictions unnecessarily limiting our engagements these past years. I'm also thankful for strong bipartisan support in Congress for the #TaiwanFlag of Taiwan Assurance Act, which advocates a review of prior guidelines,' Taiwan's Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu tweeted.
'The closer partnership between #TaiwanFlag of Taiwan & the #USFlag of United States is firmly based on our shared values, common interests & unshakeable belief in freedom & democracy. We'll continue working in the months & years ahead to ensure Taiwan is & continues to be a force for good in the world,' he wrote in another tweet.
In August last year, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-ranking US politician to visit Taiwan and hold meetings on the island for decades.
Reacting to Azar's visit, China had urged the US to respect what it calls its 'one China' principle. The Chinese foreign ministry said it firmly opposes any form of official exchanges between the US and Taiwan.
The US also sells arms to Taiwan, though it does not have a formal defence treaty with it, as it does with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
Tensions between China and the US over a range of issues, including trade, human rights, Hong Kong and Taiwan, have worsened in recent months. Beijing has escalated pressure on Taiwan through a series of military drills and aircraft incursions. PTI AKJ AKJ