HUALIEN, Taiwan — The US administration will hold trade talks with Taiwan as a sign of support for the island democracy that China claims as its own territory, prompting Beijing to warn on Thursday that it will take action if necessary to “maintain its sovereignty”.
The announcement of trade talks comes after Beijing fired missiles into the sea to intimidate Taiwan after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this month became the highest-ranking US official to visit the island in 25 years.
The government of Chinese President Xi Jinping criticized the planned talks as violating its position that Taiwan has no right to foreign relations. It warned Washington not to encourage the island to try to make its de facto independence permanent, a move Beijing said would lead to war.
“China strongly opposes this,” said Shu Jueting, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce. She called on Washington to “fully respect China’s core interests.”
Also on Thursday, the Taiwanese army held an exercise with missiles and cannons simulating a response to a Chinese missile attack.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war and have no official relations, but are tied to billions of dollars in trade and investment. The island was never part of the People’s Republic of China, but the ruling Communist Party says it is obliged to unite with the mainland, by force if necessary.
President Joe Biden’s coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region, Kurt Campbell, said last week that trade talks “would deepen our ties with Taiwan” but stressed that the policy will not change. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the ninth largest trading partner, but maintains extensive informal ties.
The US trade representative’s announcement of the talks made no mention of tensions with Beijing, but said “formal negotiations” would develop trade and regulatory ties, a move that would entail closer official interaction.
Being allowed to export more to the United States could help Taiwan soften China’s efforts to use its status as the island’s largest trading partner as political leverage. The mainland blocked imports of Taiwanese citrus and other foods in retaliation for Pelosi’s visit on Aug. 2.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it was “very welcome” to the trade talks, which it said will lead to a “new page” in relations with the United States.
“As the situation in the Taiwan Strait has escalated recently, the US government will continue to take concrete measures to maintain security and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” it said in a statement.
Relations between the US and China are at their lowest level in decades amid disputes over trade, security, technology and Beijing’s treatment of Muslim minorities and Hong Kong.
The US trade representative said the negotiations would be conducted under the auspices of Washington’s unofficial embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan.
“China is always against any form of official exchanges between any country and the Taiwanese region of China,” said Shu, the Chinese spokesman. “China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty.”
Washington says it does not take a stance on the status of China and Taiwan, but wants their dispute to be resolved peacefully. The United States government is required by federal law to ensure that the island has the means to defend itself.
“We will continue to take calm and determined steps to maintain peace and stability in the face of Beijing’s continued efforts to undermine it, and to support Taiwan,” Campbell said in a conference call on Friday.
China accounts for more than twice as much of Taiwan’s exports as the United States, the second foreign market. The government of Taiwan says its companies have invested nearly $200 billion in the mainland. Beijing says that as of a 2020 census, some 158,000 Taiwanese entrepreneurs, professionals and others live on the mainland.
China’s ban on imports of citrus fruits, fish and hundreds of other Taiwanese food products hurts rural areas seen as supporters of President Tsai Ing-wen, but those goods represent less than 0.5% of Taiwanese exports to the mainland.
Beijing did nothing that could affect the flow of processor chips from Taiwan needed for Chinese factories that assemble the world’s smartphones and consumer electronics. The island is the world’s largest chip supplier.
A second group of US lawmakers led by Massachusetts Democrat Senator Ed Markey arrived in Taiwan on Sunday and met with Tsai. Beijing announced a second round of military exercises after their arrival.
Taiwan, with a population of 23.6 million, has launched its own military exercises in response.
On Thursday, exercises at Hualien Air Force Base on the east coast simulated a response to a Chinese missile strike. Military personnel practiced with the Taiwan-made Sky Bow 3 anti-aircraft missiles and 35mm anti-aircraft guns, but did not fire them.
“We did not panic” when China launched military exercises, Air Force Major Chen Teh-huan said.
“Our usual training is to be on standby 24 hours a day to prepare for rocket launches,” Chen said. “We were ready.”
The US-Taiwan talks will also cover agriculture, labor, the environment, digital technology, the status of state-owned enterprises and “non-market policies,” the US trade representative said.
Washington and Beijing are engaged in a three-year-old tariff war over many of the same issues.
They include China’s support for state-owned companies that dominate many of its industries and complaints that Beijing is stealing foreign technology and restricting access to a range of fields in violation of its market opening commitments.
Then-President Donald Trump raised tariffs on Chinese goods in 2019 in response to complaints that his technology development tactics violate his free trade obligations and threaten US industrial leadership. Biden has maintained most of those rate hikes.
That reports McDonald from Beijing.
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