Second senior US official sent to Taiwan under new travel act

US deputy assistant commerce secretary’s visit likely to further provoke Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 March, 2018, 10:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 March, 2018, 9:15pm

The United States sent another senior official to Taiwan on Thursday, the second such visit since Washington infuriated Beijing by passing a law promoting ties with the self-ruled island.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing Ian Steff is visiting after US President Donald Trump last week signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows high-level officials to meet their Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa.

His trip follows that of US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong.

“While this is not Steff’s first trip to Taiwan, this is his inaugural visit in his official capacity as deputy assistant secretary,” the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents US interests in the absence of formal ties, said in a statement.

It said the purpose of Steff’s visit was to “explore ways to collaborate to strengthen the bilateral trade, commercial and investment relationship between the US and Taiwan”.

Steff will be in Taiwan until Tuesday and will meet senior political and business leaders while he is there, the statement said.

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His visit is expected to further provoke Beijing after Wong was sent to Taiwan soon after Trump signed the travel act. Beijing said the law damaged mutual trust between China and the US and also violated the “one China” policy that Washington has committed to observing.

At an event in Taipei on Wednesday, Wong said the US wanted to “strengthen ties with Taiwan and bolster Taiwan’s ability to defend its democracy”, adding that “our commitment to these goals has never been stronger”.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, speaking at the same event, expressed her gratitude to Trump for signing the travel act, and his approval of a US$1.4 billion arms deal for Taiwan last year.

“This has showcased the US’ unwavering commitment to Taiwan’s continued safety and security,” she said.

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On Tuesday, the mainland’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and its battle group was seen passing the Taiwan Strait in what the island’s media described as a warning from Beijing over the travel act.

Beijing sees the self-ruled island as a breakaway Chinese province subject to eventual union, by force if necessary, and it has warned the US and other countries against sending top-level officials there or allowing political leaders from Taiwan to visit.

It came the same day President Xi Jinping said any attempt to separate any part of China from the mainland would be “doomed to failure”, a message implicitly directed at Taiwan and the US.

Wong, who left Taiwan on Thursday, had “discussions with Taiwan authorities on a wide range of matters important for US-Taiwan relations”, according to the American Institute in Taiwan, without elaborating.

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Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Thursday said he expected the visits to take cooperation between Taiwan and the US to a new level, especially given the island’s policy of boosting ties with India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is in line with US interests.

The Taiwan Travel Act allows US officials to meet members of Taiwan’s government and for Taiwanese officials to visit the US under “respectful conditions”, during which they may meet their counterparts, including those from the state and defence departments.