China lashes out at US over loosening of Taiwan travel rules

BEIJING (AP) — China lashed out at the U.S. Congress on Friday over passage of a bill that would significantly boost Washington’s contacts with Taiwanese officials, accusing the U.S. of violating a pledge not to have formal contacts with the island’s government.

A spokesman for the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, An Fengshan, said the Taiwan Travel Act violates the “one-China principle” under which China regards Taiwan as a part of Chinese territory, along with three communiques signed by Washington and Beijing.

“We are firmly against the act,” An was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. “We sternly warn Taiwan not to rely on foreigners to build you up, or it will only draw fire against yourself.”

The U.S. cut formal ties with Taiwan when it recognized China in 1979 but the two maintain robust unofficial relations, and the U.S. is legally bound to respond to threats against the self-governing island democracy. China has threatened to use force to bring Taiwan under its control.

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed the act, which would allow unrestricted travel by U.S. officials to meet with members of Taiwan’s government. Taiwanese officials would be able to visit the U.S. under “respectful conditions” and meet their counterparts, including from the Departments of State and Defense.

The act passed the House of Representatives unanimously in January and awaits the signature of President Donald Trump, who at one point questioned why the U.S. should continue with its “one-China policy” of only recognizing Beijing.

The passage came amid a spike in trade tensions, with Trump declaring the U.S. will impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, targeting China and other trading partners. Chinese President Xi Jinping has dispatched economic adviser Liu He to Washington for talks aimed at heading off a full-on confrontation.

Washington’s ties with Taiwan are a constant source of friction in its relations with Beijing, and a visit by then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to the U.S. in 1996 prompted China to launch missiles into waters near the island in an attempt to intimidate its leaders.

After a period of improvement, Beijing’s ties with Taipei have been frosty since the 2016 inauguration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to endorse the one-China principle. China has cut all communications with her government and has moved to further restrict the island’s participation in international events.

China’s state media joined in the criticism on Friday, with the official China Daily newspaper saying passage of the act would encourage Tsai in pursuing formal independence, something Beijing says it will respond to with a military attack.

“Since the U.S. is bound by domestic law to act on behalf of the island in that instance, it would only give substance to the observation that the descent into hell is easy,” the newspaper said.

Noting the unanimous passage of the bill through Congress, the Communist Party newspaper Global Times said that reflected “growing nationalist sentiment in the U.S. in the face of China’s rise.”

“Bellicosity has peaked in Congress and legislators approved the bill to vent their anxieties about China,” it said.

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