Asia Pacific / Politics

Pence says Taiwan's APEC envoy asked to start free trade talks

Bloomberg, Kyodo

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said that Taiwan’s representative at a regional summit spoke to him about a possible trade deal.

Pence on Saturday met with Morris Chang, who is leading the island’s delegation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea. APEC is the only major regional forum that includes Taiwan as a member.

“The conversation with them was about economics,” Pence said. “They were strong supporters of TPP and they made a case for being considered for a free trade agreement. And I assured them we would carry back that ask.”

Pence declined to say whether the administration would enter trade talks with Taiwan, adding that President Donald Trump would make that decision.

Taiwan media called the meeting “unprecedented,” in that Taiwan’s special envoys to past APEC summits never met with a U.S. official as senior as a vice president.

Chang is founder and former chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest chip foundry.

Despite being a full member of APEC since 1991, Taiwan has never been able to be represented by its president at the annual gathering due to opposition by China, which regards the island as a renegade province awaiting unification, by force if necessary.

Taiwan participates in APEC as an economy under the name “Chinese Taipei,” an arrangement designed to overcome China’s objections to any international recognition of its sovereignty.

The Trump administration has supported Taiwan by sending warships through the Taiwan Strait and approving legislation to allow high-level diplomatic visits to Taipei — moves that have drawn protests from Beijing.

Earlier this month, a top Chinese official gave national security adviser John Bolton a pointed warning on Taiwan, as the two sides began a round of high-level meetings in Washington. Before joining the administration in March, Bolton had been a prominent advocate for revisiting the United States’ “One China” policy, in which it acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China.