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Telegram or phone call, Taiwan ponders ‘appropriate’ way to wish US president-elect Joe Biden

Four years ago, Donald Trump became the first US president-elect to have spoken to a Taiwanese head of state since Washington broke ties with Taipei in 1979.

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Taipei: Taiwan is “considering various ways” of congratulating President-elect Joe Biden, the island’s foreign minister said, amid speculation about whether Taipei was looking for a repeat of its convention-breaking call with Donald Trump.

Taiwan’s government was in discussions about communications between President Tsai Ing-wen and Biden, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told lawmakers Thursday in Taipei.

“On the topic of congratulating the U.S. president-elect, we will do it in the most appropriate way,” Wu said. “We are communicating about this. We are considering various ways, including a telegram, to congratulate the new president.”

Four years ago, Donald Trump took a congratulatory call from Tsai, the first time a U.S. president-elect had spoken to a Taiwanese head of state since Washington broke ties with Taipei in 1979. The Communist government in Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory despite never having controlled the island, dismissed the call as a gimmick.

Asked by lawmakers if a Biden refusal to take Tsai’s call would represent a diplomatic setback for Taiwan, Wu said any call would have no bearing on the health of ties with the U.S. He said Taiwan would send a delegation to attend Biden’s inauguration in January if invited.

Tsai was among the first to congratulate Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory, saying in a tweet that she looked forward to working together to further strengthen U.S.-Taiwan relations and contributions to international society.

Biden’s decision on whether to have a phone call with Tsai could help clarify whether he planned to continue the Trump administration’s tough stance on China — or show greater deference to Chinese sensitivities, especially in his dealings with Taipei. While Biden offered to deepen ties with Taiwan in an op-ed in the largest U.S.-based Chinese-language newspaper last month, he has stopped short of offering specifics on which parts of Trump-era China policies he would change.

Biden spoke to the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Thursday, reassuring them of his commitment to maintaining security alliances with both countries. While the U.S. doesn’t formally recognize Taiwan as a country, Washington is the democratic island’s main security backstop against Beijing’s ongoing threats of invasion.

The Trump administration last week agreed to sell Taiwan four Reaper drones, the latest in almost $5 billion of military sales announced over the past few weeks designed to make Chinese strategists think twice about attempting to capture the island. The sales come as China’s air force continues to pile pressure on Taiwan, with regular sojourns into the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone.

Taipei has also sought to bolster its economic relationship with Washington in an effort to increase the likelihood the U.S. will come to its aid in the event of a conflict with China. Taiwan is scheduled to send a delegation to Washington next week for economic talks with Undersecretary of State Keith Krach.

Also read: Trump is ‘not finished yet’ with China, says US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo


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