Blinken warns China against unilateral action regarding Taiwan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Rome, on Oct 31, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

ROME (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterpart on Sunday (Oct 31) that the US opposed actions by China that have increased tensions across the Taiwan Strait, a senior State Department official said.

During an hour-long meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, Mr Blinken made "crystal clear" that Washington opposes any unilateral changes by Beijing to the status quo there, the official said.

Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement that Mr Wang told Mr Blinken on Sunday that tensions over Taiwan were caused by US support for pro-independence forces in Taiwan.

Mr Wang, who is also a State Councillor, urged the United States to correct its "wrong course" on various issues and return Sino-US relations to a track of healthy development, the statement said.

In the face-to-face meeting, Mr Wang also told Mr Blinken that Taiwan was the most sensitive issue in their relations.

Taiwan views a recent increase in Chinese war planes being sent to its air defence identification zone as stepped-up military harassment by Beijing.

Taiwan's air force scrambled on Sunday to warn off eight Chinese aircraft, including fighter jets, that entered its air defence zone, its defence ministry said. The Chinese aircraft included six J-16 fighters, one anti-submarine aircraft and one surveillance aircraft.

China claims Taiwan as part of its own territory and views any foreign intervention over Taiwan as interference in its domestic affairs.

The US wants to manage the intense competition between the world's two largest economies responsibly, the State Department official said, adding that both sides acknowledged that open lines of communication are paramount.

Mr Blinken's meeting with Mr Wang was their first in person since a fiery exchange in Anchorage, Alaska in March, when US and Chinese officials levelled sharp rebukes of the others' policies in a rare public display.

Sunday's meeting in Rome was "exceptionally candid", but productive, and would help lay the groundwork for a virtual summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year, the official said.

While the US, like most countries, has no formal ties with Taiwan, Washington is the island's most important international backer and main arms supplier, and is required by law to provide it with the means to defend itself.

The US has long followed a policy of "strategic ambiguity" on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, though Mr Biden said last week that it would come to Taiwan's defence if necessary.

Still, Mr Blinken made clear that Washington had not changed its "one China" policy regarding Taiwan, the official said.

The top US diplomat, who will attend the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, also urged China to fulfil its obligations as a responsible power in terms of limiting emissions, the official said.

Mr Blinken raised concerns about other Chinese actions that "undermine the international rules-based order and that run counter to our values and interests", including in relation to human rights, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, the East and South China Seas, the State Department said.

Mr Blinken and Mr Wang did not discuss a recent Chinese hypersonic weapons test that military experts say appears to show Beijing's pursuit of an Earth-orbiting system designed to evade American missile defences, the official added.

China has repeatedly denied accusations over its human rights record in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

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