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Taiwan and U.S. to Begin Formal Trade Talks

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The Biden administration said on Wednesday that it could begin formal trade negotiations with Taiwan this fall, after several weeks of rising tensions over the island democracy that China claims as its own.

The announcement marks a step toward a pact that might deepen economic and technological ties between the USA and Taiwan, after initial talks were announced in June. But relations between the USA and China have markedly deteriorated since then, on the heels of visits by two delegations of U.S. lawmakers to Taiwan this month, including by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The trips angered the Chinese government, which sees the island as an incontestable a part of its territory, and it has responded by ramping up military drills and firing missiles into the waters around Taiwan. The USA, in turn, has accused China of using the visits as a pretext to step up operations to intimidate Taiwan, and has vowed to take care of its own military operations within the region.

Talks for the pact, called the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on Twenty first-Century Trade, will give attention to 11 trade areas, the announcement from the Office of the USA Trade Representative said, including expanding trade in agriculture and digital industries, raising labor and environmental standards, and enhancing trade between small and medium-size businesses.

The governments also said they might combat market distortions attributable to state-owned enterprises, in addition to nonmarket policies and practices — an apparent nod at China, where such practices are common.

China responded to the news of the trade talks with displeasure. Shu Jueting, a representative for China’s Ministry of Commerce, said: “China at all times opposes any type of official exchanges between any country and the Taiwan region of China, including negotiating and signing any agreements with sovereign connotations or an official nature.”

She added that China would “take all vital measures to resolutely safeguard sovereignty, security and development interests.”

The U.S.-Taiwan trade initiative might be negotiated by the American Institute in Taiwan, which is the unofficial U.S. embassy in Taipei, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the USA, which represents Taiwan in Washington within the absence of diplomatic recognition.

The Biden administration can be carrying out a separate trade negotiation with 13 Asian nations to form a pact often known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Taiwan has expressed interest in joining those talks, but given its contested status, it has not been invited to participate.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Daniel J. Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, defended what he called “an ambitious road map for trade negotiations” with Taiwan.

“We are going to proceed to satisfy our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act,” he said. “That features supporting Taiwan’s self-defense and maintaining our own capability to withstand any resort to force or other types of coercion that might jeopardize Taiwan’s security. And we’ll proceed, consistent with our ‘one China’ policy, to deepen our ties with Taiwan, including through continuing to advance our economic and trade relations.”

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting and Claire Fu contributed research.

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