US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week announced that he was lifting US restrictions on contacts between American and Taiwanese diplomats and officials in a show of US-Taiwan collusion that has angered China and seems to be a deliberate attempt by outgoing US President Donald Trump to sour future relations between Beijing and Joe Biden’s incoming administration.
Pompeo released a statement saying that the US state department had imposed the complex internal restrictions on itself in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing, but that he was now lifting them. The guidelines governing US-Taiwan protocol included restrictions on where representatives could meet and limited the ranks allowed to attend Taiwan’s national day celebrations. They also ruled that the US should not refer to Taiwan as a ‘country’ or ‘government’.
Last week, Pompeo confirmed that the US ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft will become the third senior US official to visit Taiwan since August and will be the first holder of the post to visit the island since it was formally excluded from the UN in 1971.
China’s state-run media agency Xinhua reacted angrily to the announcement. Trump was trying, it claimed, ‘to maliciously inflict a long-lasting scar on bilateral ties’ instead of facilitating an orderly transition with the next US administration.
Pompeo’s announcement is more likely to irritate Beijing than to make any significant difference to US-Taiwan trade relations which have prospered in recent years. In 2019, US exports to Taiwan totalled $42.3 bn and imports were $61.6bn. The island is the US’s tenth-largest trading partner.
Much to Beijing’s chagrin, no doubt, Taiwan is having a ‘good’ pandemic. With just 797 cases and only seven deaths among a population of nearly 24 million, Taiwan has seen nearly a quarter of a million expats chose to sit the crisis out back home and, according to National Immigration Administration data, more than 790,000 foreigners had also obtained Taiwan residency permits as of November last year, despite global travel restrictions. This has created a consumer boom that has seen domestic consumption rise by more than 5.2% year on year. It represents the fastest increase in almost a decade.