Taiwan expresses 'admiration' for Biden concern in Xi call

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan’s government expressed its thanks to and “admiration” for U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday after he told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping of his concerns about Beijing’s pressure against the island China, which claims as its own territory.

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds flags of Taiwan and the United States in support of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during an stop-over after her visit to Latin America in Burlingame, California, U.S., January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Biden’s government, which took office on Jan. 20, has moved to reassure democratic Taiwan that its commitment to them is “rock solid”, especially after China stepped up its military activity near the island shortly after Biden’s inauguration.

Biden, in his call with Xi, underscored his “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair practices, its crackdown in Hong Kong, reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan”, according to the White House.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office thanked Biden for the comments.

“We express our admiration and gratitude for President Biden’s concern about the security of the Taiwan Strait and human rights issues,” spokesman Xavier Chang said in a statement. “As a member of the international community, Taiwan will continue to work closely with like-minded countries, including the United States, to jointly contribute to the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.”

China regularly describes Taiwan as the most important and sensitive issue in it relationship with the United States, and was infuriated by stepped-up contacts between the two and increased arms sales under former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Xi maintained a hardline tone regarding Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, which Xi told Biden were matters of “sovereignty and territorial integrity” that he hopes the United States will approach cautiously.

Taiwan has been heartened by the renewed pledges of support from Biden’s team.

On Wednesday, Taiwan and the United States held their first publicly acknowledged formal meeting in Washington under the new administration.

Taiwan’s defacto ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, met Sung Kim, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

The United States, like most countries, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is the island’s most important international backer and arms supplier.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Jane Wardell and Gerry Doyle