Improved ties with Taiwan came as the US increased pressure on China and sought to build an anti-Beijing alliance in the region, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in particular taking a hardline on the issue.
On Friday, Chinese 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.”
“Our economic partnership with Taiwan — based on a shared commitment to free markets, rule of law, and transparency — is only getting stronger,” US State Department spokesman Cale Brown said on Twitter.
As officials were meeting, the US Navy sailed a warship through the Taiwan Strait, the first such transit since the election, which the Navy said “demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
While US ships routinely transit the strait, China views the strategic waterway separating it from Taiwan as a priority area and often shadows foreign vessels as they sail through.
Shaping Biden’s policy
During the Democratic primaries in February, Biden referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “thug,” and said that Beijing had to “play by the rules.” A Biden campaign ad in June accused Trump of getting “played” 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 made only seven references to China. This year’s version had more than 22.
“Democrats will be clear, strong, and consistent in pushing back where we have profound economic, security, and human rights concerns about the actions of China’s government,” the 2020 platform said.
Biden also has a history of support for Taiwan, both as a senator and since leaving office. In January, he tweeted congratulations to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen when she won reelection.
That has not stopped some China hawks, as well as Chinese dissidents and supporters of Hong Kong and Taiwan independence, fearing a Biden administration could take a softer line with Beijing. Recent moves by Pompeo and others could be intended to force the incoming administration’s hand, making it more difficult to reverse certain policies once in office.
Pompeo in July accused Beijing of violating human rights in Tibet, pointing to increased restrictions on religion, language and culture in the region, which has been controlled by China since 1950. Washington under Trump has urged “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet, even as Beijing has denounced such statements as encouraging “splittism.”
In its statement, the CTA said 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 democratic system of the CTA and its political head,” the statement added. “(This) unprecedented meeting perhaps will set an optimistic tone for CTA participation with US officials and be more formalized in the coming years.”
CNN’s Ben Westcott and Isaac Yee contributed reporting.