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China Threatens US With 'Counterstrike' After Pompeo Removes Taiwan Curbs

2021-01-11 -- China on Monday threatened it would "counterstrike" after the outgoing administration of U.S. President Donald Trump removed restrictions on official and diplomatic contact with the democratic island of Taiwan.

The State Department announced an end to a ban on high-level official and diplomatic contact with Taiwanese offficials on Jan. 9, saying Washington will no longer "appease" Beijing.

"Executive branch agencies should consider all 'contact guidelines' regarding relations with Taiwan previously issued by the Department of State under authorities delegated to the Secretary of State to be null and void," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The U.S. government had previously operated under a complex set of international restrictions barring high-level official contact and diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which has never been ruled by Beijing nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, but which has been locked out of international diplomacy and agencies at the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s insistence.

"Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and reliable partner of the United States," Pompeo said. "The United States government took these [previous] actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing. No more."

"The U.S.-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy," Pompeo said.

Under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, China has stepped up its rhetoric claiming the island as part of its territory, and has refused to rule out a military invasion.

But Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said that the country's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or their democratic way of life.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said his government "strongly condemns" the move and accused the United States of violating the terms of Washington's diplomatic relations with Beijing.

"Any action that harms China's core interests will receive a resolute counterstrike from China," Zhao warned, urging Pompeo to retract the decision or face "severe punishment."

Promise of continued support

An official with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team said Biden would work to ensure that political support for Taiwan remains bipartisan, and that any standoff with Beijing should be "consistent with the wishes and best interests" of the island's 23 million people.

"[Biden] has long said that American support for Taiwan must remain strong, principled, and bipartisan, and he plans to work to ensure that," the official said.

In Taipei, the foreign ministry unveiled a new passport for Taiwanese that more clearly separates the island from any concept of China.

While the island's status as a sovereign state springs from the 1911 Republic of China started in China by Sun Yat-sen after the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the majority of its people no longer identify as Chinese, and want international recognition for Taiwan as a sovereign nation, along with a role on the world stage.

Now, Taiwanese nationals can travel abroad using a newly designed Taiwan passport that displays the island's name more prominently than that of the Republic of China.

"While generally keeping other elements on the passport, we magnified the word 'Taiwan' on the cover to enhance Taiwan's identifiability," foreign minister Joseph Wu told reporters.

Taiwanese travelers have previously been confused with Chinese nationals at times, because of the name "Republic of China" on the cover of their passport.

Wu welcomed the relaxation of restrictions announced by Pompeo.

"Taiwan and the United States share the universal values of freedom, democracy, and human rights," Wu said. "This is why cooperation between us on a number of international issues has reached the level of partnership."

"Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue working to further enhance that relationship in future," he said.

Wu said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, will visit Taiwan on Jan. 13, and meet with President Tsai Ing-wen on Jan. 14, as well has holding talks with Wu.

"The theme of her visit to Taiwan is to discuss with Taiwan how to promote our participation in international organizations," Wu said. "This is very important for Taiwan."

"We also hope that Taiwan-US relations can be further advanced on this basis ... We will continue to promote its development," he said.

Taiwan's trade and economic representative in Germany, Hsieh Chih-wei, said the visit was the Trump administration's last gift to Taiwan before Biden is inaugurated.

'Of course we want them lifted'

Former Taiwanese envoy to the U.S. Chen Chien-jen said Taiwan was naturally keen to have the restrictions lifted.

"These restrictions were unreasonable, so of course we want them lifted if that's what they want to do," Chen said. "We are very happy about that."

"But it remains to be seen what the motivation [of the Trump administration] is, so soon before he steps down ... and how much of it the Biden administration will continue," he said.

Chen said questions still remain about whether Taiwanese officials will now be allowed to forge ties with and visit officials in the State Department, Department of Defense, and the White House under the new regime.

Ding Shu-Fan, honorary professor at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, said the move was neither a gift, nor a poisoned chalice, as some in Taiwan have suggested.

"It is an ongoing process ... this is what normal communication looks like," Ding said. But he said questions remained about what would happen next, and about the details of the protocol adopted by Washington when dealing with Taiwan in future.

"It really depends on how Biden decides ... to handle it," Ding said. "But it could open a door for the Biden administration to resolve the issue of relations with Taiwan."

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Raymond Chung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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