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A senior United States naval official visited Taiwan On Sunday, as the outgoing Trump administration continued to strengthen ties with the autonomous island in its final weeks, further irritating Beijing and potentially helping shape the way Joe Biden approaches this issue as president.
Sources identified the official as Navy Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, the senior military intelligence officer in command of the US Indo-Pacific. The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said it welcomed the visit but did not give details “as this itinerary has not been made public.”

Under the presidency of Donald Trump, Washington has increased engagement with Taipei, especially during the past 12 months.

The Trump administration has authorized billions of dollars in arms sales to the autonomous island and, in August, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in decades.

Taiwanese Marines salute aboard a military vessel. Taiwan said the new purchases would help it fight an “asymmetric war.” (AP)
Taiwanese warplanes are parked on a road during an exercise to simulate a response to a Chinese attack on its airfields in Changhua, southern Taiwan. (AP)

The improvement in ties with Taiwan came as the United States increased pressure on China and sought to build an anti-Beijing alliance in the region, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in particular took a hard line on the issue. topic.

In another move that is sure to enrage China’s leaders, the United States also welcomed the head of the Tibetan government in exile to the White House for the weekend, although he did not meet with senior officials.

Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory, although it has never been controlled by the Communist Party and the island has been ruled separately since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Chinese President Xi has vowed to “reunite” Taiwan. with the mainland. China, by force if necessary, and recent months have seen increasingly aggressive moves by the Chinese military.

On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian said Beijing “firmly opposes all forms of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan … so as not to harm peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. and Sino-US cooperation in important areas. “

Zhao was speaking before a series of high-level meetings between U.S. and Taiwanese officials under a new economic dialogue. Over the weekend, they signed a series of agreements on future cooperation in the areas of health, technology and safety, although the meeting did not reach a new trade agreement.
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“Our economic partnership with Taiwan, based on a shared commitment to free markets, the rule of law and transparency, is only getting stronger,” said US State Department spokesman Cale Brown on Twitter.

As officials gathered, the United States Navy sailed a warship across the Taiwan Strait, the first such transit since the elections, which the Navy says “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to an Indo-Pacific. free and open. “

Taiwanese indigenous defense fighter jets (IDFs) are displayed with their weapons payload during a visit by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to Penghu Magong Military Air Base on the outskirts of Penghu Island, Taiwan , on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. (AP Photo / Johnson Lai)
Taiwanese officials have claimed that the recent purchase of missiles and weapons from the United States has left the island in a credible position to defend itself against China. (AP)

While American ships routinely transit the strait, China views the strategic waterway that separates it from Taiwan as a priority area and often hides foreign ships as they navigate.

Even as President Trump has largely backed away from public engagements in the wake of his electoral defeat to Biden, Pompeo has been very active, traveling the world and keeping the pressure on China, which he has done. described as the “core threat” to the United States.
In a speech A week after the election, Pompeo said that facing the “challenge from China” means “no more illegal claims in the South China Sea, no more coercion and co-optation of American companies, no more consulates used as spy haunts, no more theft of intellectual property, and no more ignoring fundamental human rights violations. And the atrocities of the (Communist) party in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere will not be tolerated. “
President-elect Joe Biden smiles as he speaks at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware (Photo: November 10, 2020)
President-elect Joe Biden smiles as he speaks at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware (Photo: November 10, 2020) (AP)
Writing on twitter On Saturday, Pompeo praised the economic meetings between the United States and Taiwan, saying the two governments “are strong partners in defending freedom, advancing economic ties and promoting our shared democratic values.”
How exactly will a Biden presidency relate to China? Remains to be seen Many analysts expect the new administration to keep a hard line in some areas, while avoiding the kind of fierce rhetoric and stance that have characterized Trump’s time in office.

During the February Democratic primary, Biden referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “bully” and said Beijing had to “play by the rules.” A Biden campaign ad in June accused Trump of being “duped” by China.

The renewed focus on China is evident in the Democratic Party platform document, which was released in August 2020. During the last presidential campaign in 2016, the document only made seven references to China. This year’s version was over 22.

“The Democrats will be clear, strong and consistent in pushing back where we have deep economic, security and human rights concerns about the actions of the Chinese government,” the 2020 platform said.

Biden also has a history of supporting Taiwan, both as a senator and since leaving office. In January, he tweeted congratulations to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen when she won re-election.

President Donald Trump listens during an event on Operation Warp Speed ​​in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump listens during an event on Operation Warp Speed ​​in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington (AP)

That hasn’t stopped some hawks in China, as well as Chinese dissidents and independence supporters from Hong Kong and Taiwan, for fear that a Biden administration will take a softer line with Beijing. Recent moves by Pompeo and others could be intended to force the hand of the incoming administration, making it more difficult to reverse certain policies once in office.

the to visit Lobsang Sangay, head of the India-based Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), to the White House on Saturday is another such step. No leader of the Tibetan government in exile has visited the building in 60 years, the CTA said in a statement.

Pompeo in July accused Beijing of violating human rights in Tibet, pointing to an increase in restrictions on religion, language and culture in the region, which has been controlled by China since 1950. Washington under Trump has urged a “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet, even like Beijing. he has denounced such statements as encouraging “splittism.”

In its statement, the CTA said that the logic for denying its officials entry to the White House and the US State Department “was that the US government does not recognize the Tibetan government in exile.”

“Today’s visit amounts to an acknowledgment of both the CTA’s democratic system and its political leader,” the statement added.

“(This) unprecedented meeting may set an optimistic tone for CTA’s engagement with US officials and will be more formalized in the years to come.”

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