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U.S. delegation visits Taiwan for trade talks, risking China’s ire

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers his State of the State address, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, to a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly in the House of Representatives chamber of the Indiana State House in Indianapolis.  (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
By Isabella Kwai and Amy Chang Chien New York Times

A delegation including Indiana’s governor arrived in Taiwan on Sunday to begin trade talks with Taipei amid increased U.S. political tensions with China, which launched a barrage of military drills near the island in response to visits this month by U.S. government officials.

The delegation, including Gov. Eric Holcomb; Bradley Chambers, Indiana’s secretary of commerce; and others, will also visit South Korea later this week. The officials are set to meet with business and academic leaders in Taiwan and South Korea, and will focus on “strengthening Indiana’s economic and academic partnerships” with both places, Holcomb said in a news release.

“I’m committed to building an economy of the future with these global partners who are helping propel Indiana forward by creating tomorrow’s businesses, today,” the governor’s statement said.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter, “We’re excited to renew links with good friends and deepen our partnership with the great U.S. state of Indiana.”

The visit comes after the Biden administration announced last week that it would begin official trade negotiations with Taiwan this fall. The move was aimed at strengthening ties with the self-governing island, which the United States considers an important market. But it also heightened political tensions with China, which has long claimed sovereignty over Taiwan.

Sunday’s visit comes on the heels of a high-profile trip this month by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the most senior member of the U.S. government to visit the island in 25 years; and another by a bipartisan group of five U.S. lawmakers, led by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. Taiwanese officials have welcomed the visits as a show of solidarity amid harsh denunciations by Beijing.

On Sunday, Douglas Hsu, a top official in Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, welcomed Holcomb after he landed in Taiwan. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it believed “the visit will help continue to enhance and strengthen bilateral relations and deepen the mutually beneficial partnership between Taiwan and the United States.”

The ministry said that Holcomb and his delegation would meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, the foreign minister and representatives of the island’s semiconductor industries during a four-day visit.

Beijing did not immediately respond Sunday to the presence of the new U.S. delegation. But China escalated its military drills in waters near Taiwan in response to the visits by Pelosi and other government officials this month, sending multiple fighter jets and vessels around the island.

On Sunday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it had detected 12 aircraft and five vessels from China’s People’s Liberation Army near its territory.

The Biden administration has said it would continue to conduct its own military operations in the area despite pressure from Beijing.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the Indiana governor’s trip, instead referring reporters to comments this month by Ned Price, the department’s press secretary, after the visits by Pelosi, Markey and other members of Congress. Price called the delegations “peaceful visits by members of Congress who are traveling there to show their support for the people on Taiwan.”

He has routinely criticized China’s military maneuvers in response to such trips as “totally unnecessary and an absolute overreaction.”

Holcomb’s delegation includes staff from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and representatives from Indiana’s Purdue University, which announced in June that it would partner with MediaTek, a Taiwanese semiconductor company, to move some of the company’s operations to Indiana. The delegation will head to South Korea on Thursday.