Taiwan, US coast guards meet despite Chinese pressure

BEIJING (AP) — Officers from the U.S. and Taiwanese coast guards have met to discuss improving cooperation and communication despite efforts by China to isolate the self-governing island democracy.

The virtual meeting held Tuesday came amid moves by the U.S. and others to defy Beijing’s pressure campaign aimed at compelling Taiwan to accept its view that the island is part of China.

China on Tuesday recalled its ambassador to Lithuania and expelled the Baltic nation’s top representative to Beijing over its decision to allow Taiwan to open an office in Lithuania under its own name.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has increased diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan, whose residents overwhelmingly reject Beijing’s demand for political unification with the mainland. China has long blocked Taiwan from taking part in the United Nations and other international organizations and has stepped up such pressure since the election of independence-minded Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. Tsai was re-elected last year by a strong majority.

While the U.S. maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan in deference to Beijing, it is the island's key arms supplier and closest political ally.

Washington's de facto embassy in Taipei, the American Institute in Taiwan, said in a statement that at Tuesday's meeting, the sides “discussed ways to improve joint maritime responses to search and rescue, disaster relief, and environmental missions, as well as opportunities to improve communication and continue personnel educational exchanges."

“They also continued work on the common objectives of preserving maritime resources; reducing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and participating in joint maritime search and rescue and maritime environmental response events," the statement said.

“The United States supports Taiwan’s meaningful participation and contribution to issues of global concern," it said.

The meeting follows the announcement of plans by the U.S. to sell 40 self-propelled howitzers to Taiwan in a deal valued at $750 million that drew strong condemnation from Beijing.

Amid deteriorating ties with China, the former administration of Donald Trump boosted relations with Taiwan, a stance thus far maintained by President Joe Biden.

China had no immediate response to the meeting of the two coast guards, but last week denounced the howitzer sale as having “severely interfered in China’s internal affairs, sent wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence' separatist forces and endangered the stability across the Taiwan Strait."

“The Chinese (People's Liberation Army) will take all necessary measures to firmly safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and make continuous efforts to advance national reunification process,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said in an Aug. 6 statement.

Along with the sharp downturn in relations with Washington, China's increasingly assertive foreign policies have put it at odds with a number of Western democracies, particularly Canada and Australia.

China on Thursday dismissed Canada’s protests of harsh sentences recently handed down by Chinese courts to Canadians whose cases are seen as linked to the arrest in Vancouver of a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Canada and other countries, including Australia and the Philippines, face trade boycotts and other Chinese pressure in disputes with Beijing over human rights, the coronavirus and control of the South China Sea. The United States has warned that American travelers face a “heightened risk of arbitrary detention” in China for reasons other than to enforce laws.

Beijing is blocking imports of wheat, wine and other products from Australia after its government called for an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.