China condemned the US decision to ease restrictions on diplomatic relations with Taiwan in the waning days of the Trump administration, saying the island was “the most important” part of its relations with Washington.
“Any move that harms China’s core interests will be met with China’s resolute counter-strike,” said Zhao Lijian, foreign ministry spokesperson, on Monday, although he did not specify any concrete measures.
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said on Saturday that the Trump administration would lift “self-imposed restrictions” that have governed relations between Washington and Taipei. Mr Pompeo said all “contact guidelines” should be considered “null and void”.
Washington switched official diplomatic relations from Taiwan to Beijing in 1979 and maintained the strict internal protocols, which determine issues such as where diplomats could meet and how correspondence was conducted.
The US has deepened ties with Taiwan under the Trump administration, including arms sales, and high-profile bilateral exchanges and visits.
Mr Pompeo announced the decision a day after the US said Kelly Craft, its ambassador to the UN, would visit Taiwan this week in a move that was condemned by China.
Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory under the “One China” policy and has long threatened to annex the democracy by military force if it resists unification indefinitely.
China has increased its military provocations in recent months by ratcheting up military exercises close to Taiwan’s borders.
Chinese state media blasted the US decision at the weekend.
A columnist at CGTN, the state-run television network, said the US move “crossed a dangerous red line with China” and was “a cowardly act of sabotage of the incoming administration”.
Some commentators and analysts said Mr Pompeo’s announcement was inconsequential given the imminent change of administration, with Joe Biden set to be inaugurated as president on January 20.
“Given the few days left for the Trump administration, Beijing should take countermeasures mainly with diplomatic means supplemented by military solutions,” wrote Global Times, the Chinese tabloid.
“The important thing is to deal with the Biden administration after January 20. We can completely ignore clowns like Pompeo . . . US policy on Taiwan is relatively consistent,” said Song Zhongping, a commentator on Chinese military affairs.
“China will calmly deal with these matters, but when it comes to Taiwan, China will not stop for a moment strengthening preparations for military struggle.”
Margaret Lewis, professor of Chinese and Taiwanese law at Seton Hall University, said it made sense for “Beijing to ride out the last nine days of the administration and to see what happens when Biden takes office.”
But she added: “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some increase in military aircraft activity as a way of Beijing expressing that it is very much here, and very close by.”
Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, said Mr Pompeo’s decision put the incoming Biden administration in an awkward position that will complicate reconciliation efforts.
“From the point of view of America’s internal politics, it is actually just a way of leaving the Biden administration a big mess, to prevent him from quickly recovering and repairing relations with China,” he said.
Taipei welcomed the US decision. “Taiwan-US relations have been elevated to a global partnership,” said Joseph Wu, foreign minister, according to Reuters, adding it was a “big thing”.