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US lifts self-imposed restrictions on contacts with Taiwan; China's official media reacts sharply


Beijing, Jan 10: 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.

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The US move on Taiwan has angered China with the Communist nation''s official media on Sunday sharply criticising Pompeo and accusing him of "seeking to maliciously inflict a long-lasting scar" on bilateral ties, ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as the next American 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 sharply to Pompeo''s decision, the state-run Xinhua news agency, in a commentary, noted that he has made it clear that, instead of facilitating an orderly transition with the next US administration, he is seeking to maliciously inflict a long-lasting scar on bilateral ties.

"Pompeo''s latest move to lift restrictions on official contacts with China''s Taiwan region has once again proved that he, despite being America''s top diplomat, is only interested in stoking unwarranted confrontations, and has no interest in world peace," it said.

"During his tenure as secretary of state, a crucial position he has convincingly proved himself unqualified for, Pompeo has relentlessly demonised China and sought to sabotage the world''s most important bilateral relationship as hard as he can," the commentary said, attacking him personally.

The China Global Television Network, in a separate commentary, described Washington''s move as "a cowardly act of sabotage of the incoming administration."

The Trump administration, in its continuing efforts to burn the house down before leaving office, has crossed a dangerous red line with China, days before incoming President Biden takes office, it said.

With just 10 days left before the US presidential transition, Pompeo is once again straining the China-US relationship and pushing the Taiwan question deeper down the road of no return, the state-run Global Times said in a commentary.

"Such a move is tantamount to committing a crime to structurally damage peace in the Taiwan Straits and jeopardise China-US efforts to keep the bottom line stable. The dire consequences will be beyond anyone''s predictions," it said.

Tensions between China and the US have worsened in recent months over a range of issues, including trade, human rights, Beijing''s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. China has escalated pressure on Taiwan through a series of military drills and aircraft incursions.

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