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Pompeo: US to lift restrictions on contacts with Taiwan

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Mike Pompeo said the US-Taiwan relationship should not be "shackled"

The US is lifting long-standing restrictions on contacts between American and Taiwanese officials, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, writes the BBC.

The "self-imposed restrictions" were introduced decades ago to "appease" the mainland Chinese government, which lays claim to the island, the US state department said in a statement.

These rules are now "null and void".

The move is likely to anger China and increase tensions between Washington and Beijing.

It comes as the Trump administration enters its final days ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as president on 20 January.

The Biden transition team have said the president-elect is committed to maintaining the previous US policy towards Taiwan.

Analysts say they will be unhappy with such a policy decision being made in the final days of the Trump administration, but that the move could be reversed easily by Mr Pompeo's successor Antony Blinken.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, but Taiwan's leaders argue that it is a sovereign state.

Relations between the two are frayed and there is a constant threat of a violent flare up that could drag in the US, an ally of Taiwan.

In a statement on Saturday (9 December), Pompeo said the US state department had introduced complicated restrictions limiting the communication between American diplomats and their Taiwanese counterparts.

"Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions," he said. "Today's statement recognises that the US-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy."

He added that Taiwan was a vibrant democracy and a reliable US partner, and that the restrictions were no longer valid.

Following the announcement, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu thanked Mr Pompeo, saying he was "grateful".

"The closer partnership between Taiwan and the US is firmly based on our shared values, common interests and unshakeable belief in freedom and democracy," he wrote in a tweet.

Last August, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-ranking US politician to hold meetings on the island for decades.

The US also sells arms to Taiwan, though it does not have a formal defence treaty with the country, as it does with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s.

Beijing has long tried to limit Taiwan's international activities and both have vied for influence in the Pacific region.

Tensions have increased in recent years and Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to take the island back.

Although Taiwan is officially recognised by only a handful of nations, its democratically-elected government has strong commercial and informal links with many countries.

Frontpage

New US president: How EU-US relations could improve 

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Joe Biden becoming the new US president is a chance to reset transatlantic relations ©Angela Weiss/AFP  

A new US president taking office represents an opportunity to reset transatlantic relations. Find out what the EU is offering to work together on. Europe and America have traditionally always been allies, but under Donald Trump the US has been acting more unilaterally, withdrawing from treaties and international organizations.

With Joe Biden (pictured) set to take over the reins from 20 January, the EU sees it as an opportunity to relaunch co-operation.

On 2 December 2020, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a new transatlantic agenda allowing the partners to work together on a variety of issues. The Council also reaffirmed the importance of the partnership in its conclusions on 7 December. Parliament is also looking forward to closer cooperation. On 7 November, Parliament President David Sassoli tweeted: “The world needs a strong relationship between Europe and the US - especially in these difficult times. We look forward to working together to fight COVID-19, climate change, and address rising inequality.”

Both the US and the EU have much to gain from closer ties, but many challenges and differences remain.

Coronavirus

Although COVID-19 poses a global threat, Trump still opted to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization. The EU and the US could join forces on funding the development and distribution of vaccines, test and treatment as well as working on prevention, preparedness and response.

Climate change

Together the EU and the US could push for ambitious agreements at this year’s UN Summits on Climate and Biodiversity, cooperate on developing green technologies and jointly design a global regulatory framework for sustainable finance.

Technology, trade and standards

From genetically modified food to beef treated with hormones, the EU and the US have had their share of trade disputes. However, both have much to gain from removing barriers. In 2018 Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium, which led to the EU to impose tariffs on American products. Biden coming in as president is another chance for constructive talks.

The EU and the US could also collaborate on reforming the World Trade Organisation, protecting critical technologies and deciding new regulations and standards. The US is currently blocking the dispute resolution mechanisms established under the organization.

The Commission has also offered cooperation on challenges linked to digitalisation, such as fair taxation and market distortions. As a lot of leading digital companies are American, the issue of how to tax them could be sensitive.

Foreign affairs

The EU and the US also share a commitment to promoting democracy and human rights. Together they could work on strengthening the multilateral system. However, in some cases they disagree on the best way to proceed.

They both face the challenge of finding the best way to deal with China. Under Trump the US has been a lot more confrontational, while the EU focussed more on diplomacy. In December 2020 EU negotiators agreed a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China. The deal is currently being scrutinised by the Parliament. Its consent is needed for it to enter into force. The new American leadership represents an opportunity to coordinate their approaches more and better.

Iran is another topic on which the EU and the US have taken different approaches. Both the US and the EU were involved with the Iran nuclear agreement to avoid the country being able to pursue a nuclear weapon until Trump withdrew the US from it in 2018. The start of a new US president could be an occasion for a common approach.

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France says Iran is building nuclear weapons capacity, urgent to revive 2015 deal

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Iran is in the process of building up its nuclear weapons capacity and it is urgent that Tehran and Washington return to a 2015 nuclear agreement, France’s foreign minister was quoted as saying in an interview published on Saturday (16 January), writes .

Iran has been accelerating its breaches of the nuclear deal and earlier this month started pressing ahead with plans to enrich uranium to 20% fissile strength at its underground Fordow nuclear plant. That is the level Tehran achieved before striking the deal with world powers to contain its disputed nuclear ambitions.

The Islamic Republic’s breaches of the nuclear agreement since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it in 2018 and subsequently imposed sanctions on Tehran may complicate efforts by President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, to rejoin the pact.

“The Trump administration chose what it called the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. The result was that this strategy only increased the risk and the threat,” Le Drian told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

“This has to stop because Iran and - I say this clearly - is in the process of acquiring nuclear (weapons) capacity.”

The agreement’s main aim was to extend the time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it so chose, to at least a year from roughly two to three months. It also lifted international sanctions against Tehran.

Western diplomats have said Iran’s repeated breaches have already reduced the “breakout time” to well below a year.

Iran denies any intent to weaponise its nuclear programme.

With presidential elections in Iran due in June, Le Drian said it was urgent to “tell the Iranians that this is enough” and to bring Iran and the United States back into the accord.

Biden has said he will return the United States to the deal if Iran resumes strict compliance with it. Iran says sanctions must be lifted before it reverses its nuclear breaches.

However, Le Drian said that even if both sides were to return to the deal, it would not be enough.

“Tough discussions will be needed over ballistic proliferation and Iran’s destabilisation of its neighbours in the region,” Le Drian said.

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Brexit

Scottish fishermen land fish in Denmark to avoid post-Brexit red tape

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Scottish fishermen have increasingly turned to fish auctions in Denmark in the first two weeks of the year to avoid having their deliveries to the European Union blocked by post-Brexit red tape, writes .

A fish auction in Hanstholm on Denmark’s west coast has so far this year sold 525 tonnes of fish from Scottish fishing vessels, more than double compared to the same period last year.

“We’ve had an awful lot of inquiries from Scottish fishermen about landing their catch in Hanstholm,” Jesper Kongsted, who heads the auction, told Reuters on Friday (16 January). “This is very good for our business.”

Some Scottish fishing companies say they face ruin, as several EU countries rejected UK exports after new customs demands delayed the arrival of their fresh produce.

As a result, prices at fish auctions in Scotland plummeted at the beginning of the year. Kongsted said two Scottish brothers had earned an extra 300,000 Danish crowns ($48,788) by selling 22 tonnes of hake in Hanstholm rather than at an auction in Peterhead in Scotland.

“Our industry is facing mounting financial losses. Many fishing vessels are tied to the quay wall,” Elspeth Macdonald, head of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.

“Some are now making a 72-hour round trip to land fish in Denmark, as the only way to guarantee that their catch will make a fair price and actually find its way to market while still fresh enough to meet customer demands,” Macdonald said.

The introduction of health certificates, customs declarations and checks since Britain left the EU’s single market at the start of this year have hit delivery systems at some fishing companies.

This week, some Scottish fishermen threatened to dump rotten shellfish outside the British parliament in London.

($1 = 6.1490 Danish crowns)

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