The United States and Taiwan are preparing to sign a new trade agreement on Thursday, amidst escalating tensions with China. This will be the inaugural deal under the US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade framework, which was established last year. The signing is scheduled ahead of a major global security summit in Singapore this weekend, where the strained relationship between the US and China is expected to be a focal point.
Taiwan’s Office of Trade Negotiations announced that the agreement will be signed in Washington on Thursday morning, US time. Deputy United States Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi is anticipated to attend the event. The US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade framework aims to bolster economic ties between Washington and Taipei, as well as to increase Taiwanese access to US exports.
Beijing has criticised the trade talks, as it does with all high-level engagement between the US and Taiwan, which it considers part of its own territory. The signing of the deal is set to occur prior to the commencement of the Shangri-La Dialogue annual defence summit on Friday. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu are expected to be present at the Singapore event.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon revealed that Beijing had declined Washington’s invitation for the two officials to meet. General Austin, after meeting with Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada in Tokyo on Thursday, expressed his disappointment with China’s decision, stating that it was “unfortunate”. He emphasised the importance of dialogue between countries with “significant capabilities” in order to “manage crises and prevent things from spiralling out of control unnecessarily”.
The relationship between Taiwan and China took a turn for the worse following a visit to the island by then-US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in August. Beijing labelled Pelosi’s visit as “extremely dangerous”. While China regards the self-governed island as part of its territory and insists on unification with the mainland, even by force if necessary, Taiwan maintains its distinct identity, complete with its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders.
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