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U.S., Taiwan to begin formal trade talks amid Pelosi visit’s fallout

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, and Taiwanese President President Tsai Ing-wen met in Taiwan on Aug. 3. China was deeply angered by Pelosi’s visit to the self-governing island, over which Beijing claims sovereignty. (Taiwan Presidential Office/AP)
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BEIJING — The United States and Taiwan said they are set to begin formal trade negotiations, as Washington shows its support for the island democracy facing Beijing’s ire for hosting high-ranking U.S. congressional delegations.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said it expects the formal talks on the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade to begin in the fall. Washington had excluded Taiwan from the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a trade initiative widely seen as an effort to counter China’s influence in the region, despite some U.S. lawmakers lobbying for Taiwan’s inclusion.

The U.S.-Taiwan negotiations will cover 11 areas including agriculture, small and medium-size enterprises, digital trade and the environment, according to Taiwan’s Executive Yuan, the executive branch of government. The goals for the talks include “strengthening the institutionalized connection between Taiwan and other countries,” it said in a statement Thursday.

“We plan to pursue an ambitious schedule for achieving high-standard commitments and meaningful outcomes,” said Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi in a statement.

The announcement follows by several weeks a visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the face of strong protests from Beijing, causing U.S.-China relations to plummet to their lowest point in years. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and tends to respond furiously to any gestures that seem to afford the self-governing island the status of a separate country. U.S. lawmakers and Cabinet officials, however, have visited Taiwan for years.

Shortly after Pelosi’s visit, Beijing punished Taiwan by sanctioning some of its trade with China and intensifying military drills in the waters surrounding the island. Chinese state media also reported the arrest of a Taiwanese man in China on suspicion of endangering national security and promoting Taiwanese independence.

Beijing continued the show of force on Thursday, with state media reporting that the People’s Liberation Army destroyer Nanchang received a notice to join a landing exercise simulating a precision strike on an enemy coast. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said five ships and 21 aircraft were detected operating around Taiwan on Wednesday, with five aircraft crossing the Taiwan Strait’s median line.

Pelosi vows China will not isolate Taiwan as military tensions soar

Taiwan, with its population of 23 million, is the eighth-largest trade partner of the United States. The island also plays a key role in global electronics supply chains: It is home to the world’s largest and most valuable chip manufacturer, TSMC, as well as to crucial suppliers of other specialized components.

If the trade talks are a success, they could alleviate criticism among some supporters of Taiwan that Pelosi’s visit might do more harm than good, putting the island in a more perilous situation without providing concrete benefits.

But it’s also possible the talks may result in further retaliation from Beijing. “China firmly opposes any form of official contact between Taiwan and countries having diplomatic ties with China, including negotiating and signing agreements with implications of sovereignty and of an official nature,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said when plans for negotiations were announced in June.

Only 14 governments around the world recognize Taiwan as a country, including Belize, the Marshall Islands and the Vatican. The rest, including the United States, do not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Beijing and Taipei have refused diplomatic relations with any government that formally recognizes the other, resulting in the increasing isolation of Taiwan.

The United States and Taiwan have long kept unofficial relations through the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States. The trade talks will be held through these bodies.

In an interview with Taiwan’s official Central News Agency on Saturday, Taiwan’s top trade negotiator, John Deng, said the government hoped the negotiations would conclude by the end of next year, before the 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Li reported from Seoul.