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White House to hold secret talks with Taiwan officials in Washington

The White House will next week hold secret talks with Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu and national security adviser Wellington Koo as part of a special diplomatic dialogue intended to remain private to avoid sparking an angry reaction from China.

Five people familiar with the secret talks — known as the “special channel” — said Wu and Koo would lead the delegation.

After arriving at the weekend, the Taiwanese team will next week meet Jon Finer, the US deputy national security adviser. One person said Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, would also take part in the meetings.

Successive US administrations have not discussed the existence of the longstanding diplomatic channel, which is used to address security issues and has become more significant as China has become increasingly assertive around Taiwan.

The Financial Times revealed the existence of the channel two years ago when Wu led a team that met US officials in Annapolis, a city in the state of Maryland. The White House and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representation Office, Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the US, declined to comment.

The talks come at a tense time in US-China ties, which have become more turbulent after the US military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over North America for eight days.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken is trying to meet Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, at a security conference in Munich on Saturday. Two weeks ago, Blinken cancelled a trip to China, where he was scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping, due to the crisis sparked by the balloon.

The special channel meeting also comes just days after Michael Chase, the top Pentagon China official, travelled to Taiwan in what was only the second visit to the country by a senior US defence policymaker since 1979, when Washington switched its diplomatic recognition for China from Taipei to Beijing.

China opposes visits to Taiwan by US officials and trips to America by Taiwanese politicians, particularly when they are in an official capacity. Last August, Sino-US relations plunged to a new low after China held big military exercises, including firing missiles over Taiwan, to protest then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting Taiwan.

Chinese officials say the US is weakening the “One China” policy, under which Washington recognises Beijing as the sole government of China but acknowledges — without endorsing — the view that Taiwan is a part of China.

The US denies changing the policy. But the Biden administration has followed in the steps of the Trump administration by loosening restrictions on US diplomatic and officials meeting their Taiwanese counterparts.

In the past, the special channel has sometimes been convened outside of Washington and away from federal government buildings to avoid giving China a pretext to criticise the US and Taiwan.

But next week’s meeting will be held at the Virginia headquarters of the American Institute in Taiwan. AIT is a private organisation set up following the US Taiwan Relations Act to manage unofficial relations with Taiwan.

Laura Rosenberger, the top National Security Council official for China, is preparing to leave her White House position to become the head of AIT in the US, according to four people familiar with the situation. At the White House, she will be replaced by Sarah Beran, a senior career diplomat.

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