Taiwan has appointed a confidant of President Tsai Ing-wen to serve as the island’s representative to the United States. Hsiao Bi-khim, a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and adviser to Taiwan’s National Security Council, is the first woman to fill the de facto ambassador role, the presidential office said on Wednesday. The 48-year-old was formally appointed head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington by Tsai on Tuesday, replacing veteran diplomat Stanley Kao, presidential spokesman Ting Yun-kung said. “President Tsai expects Hsiao Bi-khim to continue to deepen US-Taiwan relations through the existing foundation, given that the United States is Taiwan’s most important international partner,” Ting said. Beijing sends warplane to buzz Taiwan after missile test Before losing her seat in the January elections, Hsiao had served as a DPP legislator since 2002, overseeing foreign relations and defence affairs for the party and heading up its international affairs department, making her well-versed in international affairs, Ting said. Born in Kobe, Japan in 1971 to a Taiwanese father and American mother, Hsiao grew up in the Taiwanese city of Tainan, but moved to the US after leaving junior high school. She earned a master’s degree in political science from Columbia University. She is also vice-president of Liberal International in England and leader of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats in Taiwan. Observers said Hsiao’s close relationship with Tsai and her connections to senior US politicians meant she was well qualified to serve as the island’s envoy to America. “Although she is not a career diplomat, her experience of US-Taiwan relations and international affairs makes her an excellent choice for the job,” Lo Chih-cheng, the DPP’s head of global affairs, said. Hsiao was one of Tsai’s most trusted colleagues and her expertise in US affairs would allow her to “effectively and accurately relay the president’s messages to the US and vice versa”, he said. Richard Bush, a former US envoy to Taiwan, who recently retired from the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, said Hsiao’s appointment would be welcomed in the US, given her work in nurturing US-Taiwan relations. Washington severed formal diplomatic ties with Taipei – in favour of Beijing – in 1979, but has maintained informal relations with the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, which allows it to supply it with weapons to counter military aggression from mainland China. Under President Donald Trump , the US has stepped up its engagement with Taiwan, prompting anger and protest in Beijing. The American Institute in Taiwan, the United States’ de facto embassy in Taipei, said on Wednesday that as a legislator Hsiao had worked with the AIT to “make progress on many aspects of the US-Taiwan partnership, including our security cooperation, economic and commercial ties, and joint efforts to share Taiwan’s democratic success story with the world”. “[We] feel confident that the US-Taiwan friendship will flourish during her tenure,” it said. Wang Kung-yi, a professor of political science at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said there was no doubt Hsiao could improve communication channels and strengthen US-Taiwan ties. “But how much she can do – like facilitating a possible meeting between Trump and Tsai, or US recognising the independent sovereignty of Taiwan as some US congressmen have suggested – remains a big question,” he said. Hsiao is expected to assume her new post next month.