The announcement comes ahead of a planned trip by the US ambassador to the United Nations to Taiwan, which has drawn Chinese anger.
The United States will end its decade-long restrictions on official contacts with Taiwan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced, a move in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration that is certain to anger China.
In a statement on Saturday, Pompeo said the US State Department had “put complex internal restrictions in place for several decades to regulate the interactions of our diplomats, soldiers and other officials with their Taiwanese counterparts”.
“The United States government took these measures unilaterally to appease the communist regime in Beijing,” he said. “No more.”
It was not clear what the change would mean in practice. Pompeo said executive communications with Taiwan are being handled by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), owned by the US government and serving as the de facto embassy in Taiwan.
The Taipei US Economic and Cultural Office in Washington, DC, which serves as Taiwan’s unofficial embassy, said the move shows the “strength and depth” of the US-Taiwan relationship.
However, the statement, received less than two weeks prior to the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, is expected to anger China, which has viewed Taiwan as its own territory and has worked to keep it isolated on the world stage.
It also took days before Kelly Craft, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, will visit the island from January 13-15. Craft will be the most senior US official to do this.
Today I am lifting all self-imposed restrictions on how executive agencies can interact with their Taiwanese counterparts. This action will benefit our two great democracies. https://t.co/JmxE5jsZYf
– Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 9, 2021
The US has kept Taiwan at a distance in the past to maintain ties with China.
However, the Washington-Beijing relationship has deteriorated over the past four years, and Trump took a congratulatory call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on December 2, 2016, who sets the tone.
Since then, experts have said the US has increasingly used Taiwan as a club amid the sharpness.
This week, China warned the Trump administration that it would pay a “heavy price” if Craft’s planned visit took place. “The United States will pay a heavy price for its wrong action,” the Chinese mission to the United Nations said in a statement.
“China urges the United States to stop its insane provocation, not to create new difficulties for China-US relations … and not to go further down the wrong path.”
Taiwan has benefited from the discord, with record sales of US arms and visits from other officials, including Alex Azar, secretary for health and human services.
Last year, Trump also signed the Taiwan Assurances Act, which deepens ties between the U.S. and Taiwan, even though the two do not have formal diplomatic ties.
Analysts said Craft’s upcoming visit is likely to be symbolic rather than impactful, as it will take place days before Biden takes office and Taiwanese leaders are excited to see how he approaches the relationship.