Blinken urges China to maintain cross-strait stability as Taiwan votes

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Beijing to maintain cross-strait stability on Friday during a meeting with a senior Chinese official, hours before voters in Taiwan headed to polls to choose a new president.

Blinken, briefly back in Washington between his latest Middle East crisis tour and a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, met with Liu Jianchao, who heads the international division of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee.

“The two sides had a constructive discussion on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including areas of potential cooperation and areas of difference,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“The Secretary reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea.”

Beijing did not mention Taiwan in its statement following the talks, instead saying the two sides agreed to “continue to strengthen dialogue and cooperation”.

“Liu… elaborated the Chinese position on relevant issues, stressing that the two sides should move towards each other to promote stable, healthy and sustainable development of China-U.S. relations,” according to a readout his office shared on WeChat.

Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing, is voting on Saturday for a new president with Beijing describing the front-runner, Lai Ching-te, as a “severe danger” over past comments favorable to outright independence.

But Lai has been cautious on the campaign trail and U.S. officials say privately that they do not see Chinese statements and actions as out of the ordinary for a Taiwan election.

The United States, while recognizing only Beijing, provides weapons to Taiwan to ensure its defense, as China has not ruled out using force to “reunify.”

The United States has “deep confidence in Taiwan’s democratic process and believe it is for Taiwan voters to decide their next leader free from outside interference,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Thursday.

President Joe Biden’s administration plans to send an “unofficial” delegation to Taiwan after the election, a move it announced in advance and described as routine.

Support for Taiwan is especially strong in the U.S. Congress, where the Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution commending Taiwan, hailing the “example it has set for self-governance, not just for the Pacific region, but for the world.”

 Coordination with Japan 

Blinken also met with Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa of close ally Japan at the State Department on Friday.

The two discussed preserving stability over the Taiwan Strait as well as “enduring support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Miller said.

Kamikawa had visited Ukraine on Sunday during a global tour and announced new deliveries of defense equipment, which is officially pacifist.

Japan has also invited Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal for a conference next month on reconstruction of the country following Russia’s invasion two years ago.

The trip by Liu, seen as a rising figure in Chinese policymaking, comes as the United States and China step up dialogue to ease tensions that have soared in recent years.

The two powers’ presidents, Biden and Xi Jinping, met in November in San Francisco where they agreed to restore military dialogue, seen by Washington as critical to preventing mishaps.

Liu, speaking Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, took a conciliatory tone with little criticism of the United Sates.

He declined to say how China would respond to Taiwan’s elections and said Beijing noted U.S. statements that it does not back Taiwanese independence.

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