The US believes deeper trade ties with Taiwan will pay off not just for Taiwan and the US but also for China, a senior US official said in Washington on Monday.
Deputy US Trade Representative Karan Bhatia said China had nothing to fear as he prepared to become the most senior US official to visit Taiwan in six years. Bhatia is due to arrive in Taiwan today.
"We want to see that trade relationship grow and be strengthened," he told reporters, a day before leaving for Taipei for talks to review the two sides' Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
"We believe that is in the best interests of the United States. We believe that it's in the best interests of Taiwan's businesses and consumers," Bhatia said.
"And frankly we believe that it's also in the best interests of mainland China, as well, that that economic relationship be a strong one," he added.
The US has often used TIFA accords with countries as a prelude to launching full-blown bilateral free trade agreements.
But Bhatia ruled that out for Taiwan, despite reported interest in such a pact from some Taiwanese leaders.
"I would not look for any announcements on the FTA front while we're over there," he said, citing the limited time available before the US administration loses its "fast-track" trade negotiating power in the middle of next year.
He added: "We always stand ready to discuss all issues with our trading partners. I'm not saying that the issue might not come up."
Bhatia's trip comes after the US snubbed President Chen Shui-bian's (
But the US official played down the political significance of his visit to Taipei, from where he is due to travel on to India and Vietnam.
"I recognize that my visit over there is likely to be noted by the media there. That's fine," Bhatia said.
"But what I would stress is that this is not intended to be a political trip. This is intended to be a trip to strengthen economic relations under a pre-existing Trade and Investment Framework Agreement."
Bhatia said he would use the TIFA dialogue to press Taiwan on intellectual property rights, along with access for US exporters in pharmaceuticals, agriculture and telecommunications.
Despite switching its diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, the US remains the nation's biggest arms supplier and ninth-largest trading partner.