Taiwan-Biden ties off to strong start with invite for top diplomat

FILE PHOTO: Inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States
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By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's ties with its most important global backer the United States are off to a strong start under President Joe Biden's government, after the island's de facto ambassador attended an inauguration for the first time with an official invitation.

Former President Donald Trump's administration ramped up support for Taiwan, increasing arms sales and sending senior officials to Taipei, angering China and stirring even greater enmity from Beijing towards Washington.

That had made Trump a popular figure in democratic Taiwan, which China views as its own territory, to be taken by force if needed, and raised concern in its government that Biden may not be as helpful.

Emily Horne, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the U.S. commitment to Taiwan was "rock-solid" after the island's de facto ambassador in Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, attended Biden's swearing in on Wednesday.

"President Biden will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Asia-Pacific region - and that includes Taiwan."

Taiwan's foreign ministry said it was the first time an inauguration committee had formally invited the island's Washington representative and showed the close friendship between Taiwan and the United States based on shared values.

"These shared values are democracy, freedom and human rights," said ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou.

The United States ended formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, switching recognition to China, though Washington is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

In a video message on her Twitter account, Hsiao, who is close to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, said she was honoured to be there representing Taiwan's government and people.

"Democracy is our common language and freedom is our common objective," she said.

Tsai sent her congratulations too, saying she hoped the two sides could work together to maintain regional democracy, freedom, peace and stability.

Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday he was in favour of greater engagement with Taiwan.

Tsai met Blinken in 2015 at the State Department when he was deputy secretary of state and she was the presidential candidate for Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party.

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(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)