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America and Taiwan sign a trade agreement… and China is warning

The United States and Taiwan signed a trade agreement Thursday aimed at strengthening economic relations between the two parties, in a move that drew warning from Beijing.

The US-Taiwan Trade Initiative for the 21st Century aims to boost trade by streamlining customs checks, improving regulation and establishing anti-corruption measures between the United States and the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China considers an integral part of its territory.

Washington and Taipei do not have formal diplomatic relations, but they maintain unofficial relations through the American Institute in Taiwan, which serves as the US embassy on the island.

The first agreement under the latest initiative was signed by representatives of the American Institute in Taiwan and the Office of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative in the United States, the USTR’s media office announced Thursday.

A spokesman for the US Trade Representative’s office, Sam Michel, said in a statement that the agreement “aims to strengthen and deepen economic and trade relations.”

Deputy US Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi attended the signing ceremony, he added.

“We thank our partners in Taiwan for helping us reach this important juncture, and we look forward to upcoming negotiations on additional trade areas contained in the initiative’s negotiating mandate,” Michel said.

new beginning

Washington has remained a major ally and arms supplier to Taiwan despite the transfer of diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It is also the island’s second largest trading partner.

But Beijing expresses its dissatisfaction with any indication of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and other governments because it considers the island an integral part of its territory.

“The agreement that will be signed tonight is not only historic but also represents a new beginning,” government spokesman Alan Lin told reporters in Taipei ahead of the signing ceremony in the United States on Thursday.

“Some related tasks have yet to be completed… Taiwan will continue to move toward a comprehensive free trade agreement with the United States to ensure Taiwan’s economic security,” he added.

The Taiwan government described the agreement as the “most comprehensive” signed with Washington since 1979.

On Thursday, China urged the United States not to sign any agreement “with sovereign connotations or of an official nature with the Chinese region of Taiwan.”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said during a press briefing that the United States “should not send wrong signals to the Taiwanese independence forces in the name of trade.”

Beijing has stepped up threats and anti-Taiwan rhetoric in recent years, increasing military exercises in the seas around the island and working to sever official ties with countries around the world.

The issue sparked a rare bipartisan consensus in the United States, with politicians including Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his Democratic predecessor Nancy Pelosi publicly meeting Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

Washington revealed plans for the trade negotiations in August in a sign of support as Beijing was staging massive military exercises in response to Pelosi’s visit to the island.

China is highly critical of any diplomatic action that appears to treat Taiwan as a sovereign state, and has reacted with growing anger to visits by Western politicians.

In April, China conducted a three-day military exercise simulating an island blockade in response to McCarthy and Tsai meeting in California.