Biden's trade nominee has family roots in both Taiwan and China

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Katherine Tai, nominated to become President-elect Joe Biden’s top trade negotiator, has family roots in both China and Taiwan, she told reporters on Friday, answering questions bubbling in Asia since her nomination first surfaced earlier this week.

If confirmed as U.S. Trade Representative, Tai, who currently serves as the chief trade counsel for the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, would play a key role in negotiating trade agreements with China and other countries.

Tai, who speaks fluent Mandarin, said her parents were born in mainland China and grew up in Taiwan before moving to the United States in the 1960s as graduate students in the sciences. Tai, 45, was born years later in Connecticut.

Some media described Tai as Taiwanese-American, while others called her Chinese-American, a difference generally not considered significant in the United States, but that triggered sensitivities in democratic Taiwan, which is pressing Washington to sign a bilateral trade deal here in the face of what it describes as "unrelenting intimidation" from China.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has ramped up its military activities near the island.

Tai, who spoke briefly after being introduced by Biden, said her father was a researcher working to advance treatments for American soldiers who served in the Vietnam War, and her mother still works on treatments for opioid addiction at the National Institutes of Health.

Tai said it never occurred to her until decades later - while filling out paperwork to work for the agency she may soon head - that by being born in the United States she became a U.S. citizen before her parents, who were naturalized in 1979.

She also spoke of her pride in representing the United States in a case against China before the World Trade Organization, together with a colleague whose parents had emigrated from India.

“Two daughters of immigrants there to serve, to fight for, and to reflect the nation that had opened doors of hope and opportunity to our families,” she said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)