Taiwan and the United States have held their first high-level meetings under a new economic dialogue, signing a five-year agreement and promising future cooperation in health, technology and security.
The talks, held amid a controversial US presidential transition period and high regional tensions with China, did not advance Taiwan’s hopes of a trade deal with the United States, despite the two countries moving closer under Donald. Trump and his rejection of Beijing.
They were led by Taiwan Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Chen Chern-chyi and US Under Secretary of State Keith Krach, with the stated goal of building on historical ties and “shared democratic values,” and senior government officials se met for the first time. on Friday, signing a five-year memorandum of understanding.
The parties established working groups on global health security, science and technology, 5G and telecommunications security, supply chains, women’s economic empowerment, infrastructure cooperation and investment.
Officials said the talks emphasized the potential for cooperation in health research and development, prioritizing the contribution of Taiwan the semiconductor supply chain. The MOU does not create legally binding rights or obligations for either party and is subject to available remedies.
Representatives for the two sides detailed some specific commitments on Saturday, rather than announcing expectations and aspirations for the future bilateral partnership. But Taiwan hopes the meetings will turn into something more concrete, like a trade deal.
A trade deal between the United States and Taiwan has bipartisan support from the United States, but President-elect Joe Biden has not publicly announced his intentions for his China policy. He is seen as a proponent of multilateral solutions, which has raised some concern in Taiwan that he may try to re-engage with Beijing.
On Saturday, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said it was “premature” to enlist the support of Biden’s team for a trade deal.
“I think the team is busy dealing with the transition,” he told the media.
“I don’t think they already have a prior conclusion about a [bilateral trade agreement] or a [free trade agreement] saying that is not what they want to pursue. I think bipartisan support on Capitol Hill remains very strong and I think it will continue, and we will work hard under the [existing bilateral] framework with the new administration ”.
Natasha Kassam, a researcher at the Lowy Institute, said it was not surprising that trade talks took a back seat, but “even the symbolism of these high-level economic talks and the resulting memorandum of understanding is valuable to President Tsai, another sign to Beijing that US support for Taiwan continues to grow. “
The island’s government is seeking bilateral trade agreements in the United States, in part because it is not part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Association (RCEP), the world’s largest free trade agreement signed last week by 15 Asian countries and the Pacific, including China.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has said there is little chance of it joining RCEP given China’s presence. He has also been pushing to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, but with Chinese President Xi Jinping signaling his potential interest in joining, Taipei could again be blocked from participating.
The economic dialogue is a key initiative stemming from the outgoing Trump administration’s deeper ties to Taiwan, which has seen high-level government visits and billions of dollars in arms sales, all of which angered Beijing.
On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned the United States to “fully understand the high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue” and demanded that it immediately halt all official ties and interactions.
“China firmly opposes all forms of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan. This position is consistent and clear, ”he said. “China will make legitimate and necessary reactions in light of the development of the situation on the ground.”
Beijing sees Taiwan as a rogue province that must be returned to the fold, by force if necessary. Particularly since the election of the current government headed by Tsai Ing-wen, Beijing has lobbied for Taiwan to be excluded from international bodies such as the World Health Assembly, and for the few remaining countries that recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty to cut ties. with Taipei.
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