By Yew Lun Tian and Yimou Lee
BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China condemned the United States on Monday for scrapping curbs on interactions with Taiwan officials, saying nobody could prevent China’s “reunification”, while Taiwan’s foreign minister hailed the U.S. move as a sign of “global partnership”.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the change on Saturday, in the waning days of the Republican Trump administration before Democrat Joe Biden assumes the presidency on Jan. 20.
China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, said it was “resolutely opposed” to the decision and condemned it.
“The Chinese people’s resolve to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity is unshakable and we will not permit any person or force to stop the process of China’s reunification,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
“Any actions which harm China’s core interests will be met with a firm counter-attack and will not succeed.”
China’s widely-read Global Times tabloid, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, warned in a commentary against any plan by Pompeo to visit Taiwan before Biden’s inauguration, saying the Chinese response would be “overwhelming”.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus responded in a tweet by saying there were no such plans and a visit by Pompeo to Europe would be his last during the Trump presidency.
“There are no plans to travel to Taiwan this week but we will continue our consistent support for Taiwan as a successful market economy, vibrant democracy, and force for good in the world,” Ortagus said.
On Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, will arrive in Taipei for a three-day visit that China has denounced.
Craft’s visit is highly symbolic as Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, or most global bodies, because of Chinese objections. Beijing says only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the international stage.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said both he and President Tsai Ing-wen would meet Craft on Thursday, adding that discussing ways to promote Taiwan’s international participation would be a topic during the visit.
Taiwan welcomed Pompeo’s announcement of the scrapping of curbs on interactions, with Wu telling reporters it was a “big thing”.
He added, “Taiwan-U.S. relations have been elevated to a global partnership. The foreign ministry will not let our guard down and hopes to continue to boost the development of Taiwan-U.S. ties.”
Like most countries, the United States has no official ties with Taiwan, though it is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself. Under President Donald Trump it has ramped up arms sales and sent senior officials to Taipei.
But Pompeo’s decision means, for example, that Taiwan officials will be able to hold meetings at the State Department or White House rather than in non-official locations elsewhere, such as hotels.
Chinese state media lambasted the decision.
The Global Times said China must send a “stern warning” to Taiwan. “Those on the island of Taiwan must not take for granted that they can seek secession with the help of the last-ditch madness of an administration abandoned by the Americans.
“On the contrary, such madness is very likely to bring them annihilation,” it said.
Trump is a popular figure in Taiwan because of his backing for the island. However, the government has reassured people that strong ties will not change under Biden, pointing to vigorous bipartisan U.S. support for Taiwan.
Still, Pompeo’s move and Craft’s visit have prompted concern in some circles in Taiwan, where there is a broad cross-party consensus on maintaining strong U.S. ties and there have long been worries Trump may sacrifice Taiwan for a deal with China.
On Saturday, former President Ma Ying-jeou told media that Craft’s trip was only designed to needle Beijing, and simply a show of surface friendship with no practical use.
Late on Sunday, Johnny Chiang, chairman of the main opposition Kuomintang party, which traditionally favours close relations with China, said a key test would be whether Biden’s government maintained Pompeo’s changes.
“Let’s not become a bargaining chip in the game between the United States and mainland China,” he said.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk in Wshington; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Mark Heinrich)