Taiwan envoy says had good exchanges with Trump, China's Xi

DANANG, Vietnam (Reuters) - Taiwan’s envoy to the APEC summit of Asia-Pacific leaders said on Saturday he had good exchanges with both U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, but did not discuss political issues with Xi.

Taiwanese special envoy to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), People First Party Chairman James Soong speaks during a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Trump upset China by taking a telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen shortly after winning the election last year. The United States has no formal relations with self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its territory, but is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

Xi told Trump in Beijing on Thursday that Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. ties.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the APEC summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang, Taiwan’s envoy James Soong said during informal moments between events he had the opportunity to have “very good interactions” with Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, among others. Soong said he would report back to Taipei before speaking more about the contents of those conversations but said they were held in an atmosphere of “great consideration”.

Soong said his meeting with Xi was “natural and friendly”, but added: “This isn’t the occasion for cross-Taiwan Straits political talks.”

Relations between China and self-ruled Taiwan have nosedived since Tsai was elected last year. China believes she wants formal independence for Taiwan, a red line for Beijing.

For her part, Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and security.

China has suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taiwan, stepped up military drills around the island and boosted diplomatic pressure by siphoning off its remaining diplomatic allies.

China has yet to give its account of Xi’s interaction with Soong, who was born in China and heads the China-friendly Taiwan opposition party the People First Party.

Despite Taiwan’s lack of diplomatic recognition by the vast majority of countries, APEC allows the island to participate as a separate economic, rather than political, entity. It is one of the few forums senior Chinese and Taiwanese officials both attend.

In 2013, Xi told Taiwan’s envoy at an APEC summit in Indonesia that a political solution for Taiwan could not wait forever.

Nationalist forces, defeated by the Communists, fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ros Russell