Secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Saturday said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts, a move likely to anger China and increase tensions between Beijing and Washington in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

China claims democratic and separately ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and regularly describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the US.

While the US, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up support, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.

In a statement, Pompeo said that for several decades the US state department had created complex internal restrictions on interactions with Taiwanese counterparts by American diplomats, service members and other officials.

“The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing,” Pompeo said. “Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions.”

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, will visit Taiwan next week for meetings with senior Taiwanese leaders, prompting China to warn on Thursday that the Trump administration was playing with fire.

Chinese fighter jets approached the island in August and September during the last two visits: by US health secretary Alex Azar and under secretary of state Keith Krach.

The US is Taiwan’s strongest international backer and arms supplier, and is obliged to help provide it with the means to defend itself under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

“Today’s statement recognizes that the US-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy,” Pompeo said.



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