American Institute in Taiwan director Brent Christensen, Washington’s de-facto ambassador on the self-governed island, said this week the US had an “unwavering commitment” that Taiwan could count on, given the cause for concern that China had become.

“The US has serious concerns about China’s market-distorting subsidies, threats, theft of intellectual property and lack of a market-oriented approach, and in contrast, Taiwan’s close collaboration with the US proves it is a model for the kind of partnership the US is seeking in the region,” Christensen said at the Indo-Pacific economic forum, held in Taipei since Tuesday.

His remarks are seen as a reassurance after some papers including the Wall Street Journal claimed that US President Donald Trump had asked government officials not to visit Taiwan, after Trump talked with Xi Jinping over the phone and agreed to meet him in person at the upcoming G20 Summit in Osaka to continue to find a solution to the protracted trade dispute.

Christensen did not respond to questions on whether Trump had temporarily banned his subordinates from visiting the island or if the US has suspended a review on selling new F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

A file photo taken in November 2017 shows Chinese President Xi Jinping greeting Donald Trump during a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AFP

The WSJ reported on Monday that the Trump administration was divided over the impact that a US$2-billion-plus arms sale to Taiwan could have on efforts to reinvigorate trade talks with Beijing.

The newspaper cited three anonymous White House and administration sources as saying that US officials were worried Xi could use the arms deal as an excuse not to meet with Trump in Osaka. One of the sources told the WSJ that Trump had lashed out last year after learning that US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong had traveled to Taipei in March 2018. The president then made it clear that no US diplomats should travel to the island while he worked on a deal with China, the source said. Still, it “took some convincing” by US officials and lawmakers to make Trump see “the value in using Taiwan as a bargaining chip in his talks with China,” the paper said.

Taiwan has seen a flurry of visits by senior US officials following the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act last year. Among the visitors were US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Trade Policy and Negotiations David Meale, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Nerissa Cook and US Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce.

The latest visit by a senior US official was FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate, the highest-ranking official from the US security service to visit Taiwan, who was on the island for an FBI training program for international investigators.

The US has announced three arms package sales to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act since Trump took office in January 2017, showing its commitment to Taiwan’s security.

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FBI training in Taiwan included intel-sharing