U.S. Urges China to Talk With Taiwan in Early Nod From Biden

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. State Department urged China to engage in a dialogue with Taiwan and halt military pressure on the island, in an early nod of support for Taipei from the Biden administration.

The U.S. statement came Saturday after a group of 13 Chinese military planes, including eight H-6K bombers, entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The operation was among the most significant in a campaign that has seen the People’s Liberation Army make almost daily incursions into the airspace around Taiwan.

“We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security and values in the Indo-Pacific region -- and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan,” the State Department said in the statement.

Disputes over Taiwan, which has been one of the biggest flash points between the U.S. and China since the Cold War, have returned to the fore as Washington steps up support for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. China’s Xi Jinping cut off communication with Taipei and in 2016 launched a pressure campaign against Tsai over her refusal to accept that both sides belong to “One China.”

The U.S. statement signaled continuity with former U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy of engagement with Taiwan. Trump’s government ratcheted up arms sales to Taiwan and his Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Taipei in August, becoming the highest-level U.S. visitor in decades.

“The United States will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan,” the State Department said. It added that the U.S. commitment to Taiwan was “rock solid” and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability in Asia.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled a tough line on Beijing while seeking cooperation on issues such as climate change. Xi is set to address Davos later on Monday in his first major remarks since Biden took office. The Chinese Embassy in Washington issued a statement on Saturday denying a Wall Street Journal report that Beijing was seeking a high-level meeting to help ease tensions.

Meanwhile, a U.S. aircraft carrier group entered the disputed South China Sea to “conduct routine operations,” the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said Saturday in a statement. The USS Theodore Roosevelt’s group will include flights with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units, it said.

China Agreements

The State Department statement indicated a desire by the Biden administration to preserve the longstanding ambiguity about Taiwan’s status. The U.S. pledged to stand by existing agreements with China and spoke of the interests of the “people on Taiwan,” rather than the people “of Taiwan.”

U.S., Japan Defense Chiefs Agree to Strengthen Alliance in Call

China has repeatedly come up in calls between top Biden aides and their allies in recent days. Concerns about how to handle ties with Asia’s largest economy came second only to the coronavirus in a list of problems Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed with his U.K. counterpart Ben Wallace on Saturday, according to an email from the U.S. Defense Department.

Austin also agreed with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi in a call Sunday to oppose any attempts to change the status quo in the East or South China seas, according to a Japanese Defense Ministry statement. Austin reaffirmed the U.S.’s position that the disputed Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, were covered by their defense treaty.