The US lifting of restrictions on interactions with Taiwanese officials is a "big thing", Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Monday, describing it as a major boost for relations with Taipei's most important global supporter.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move on Saturday, in the waning days of the Trump administration ahead of Joe Biden assuming the US presidency on January 20.
"This is a big thing for the elevation of Taiwan-US relations," Wu told reporters, expressing his "sincere gratitude" to the US government. "Taiwan-US relations have been elevated to a global partnership. The foreign ministry will not let our guard down and hope to continue to boost the development of Taiwan-US ties."
Although the US, like most countries, has no official ties with Taiwan it is bound by treaty to provide it with the means to defend itself, and under President Donald Trump has ramped up arms sales and sent senior officials to Taipei.
Instead of an embassy, Washington's is represented by the American Institute in Taiwan. Its purpose is to advance the interests of the US and to serve and protect US citizens in Taiwan.
In a statement on Saturday, Pompeo said that for several decades the State Department had created complex internal restrictions on interactions with Taiwanese counterparts by American diplomats, service members and other officials. "Today I am announcing that I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions," he said.
On January 13, US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, will arrive in Taipei for a three-day visit, which China has denounced. "China firmly opposes any form of official ties between the United States and [Taiwan]," foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
"Pompeo and his like if you will, have put on stage their final madness, unscrupulously using the remaining days in office to sabotage China-US relations and serve their personal political gains," she added.
"We also urge the US side to return to reason and stop any words and deeds that undermine bilateral relations," said Hua. "China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its own sovereign and security interests. If the US side insists on going its way, it will pay a heavy price for its wrong words and deeds."
Despite the opposition from China, Wu said both he and Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen would meet Craft on Thursday. The topic for the visit is to discuss how to promote Taiwan's international participation, he said.
Craft's visit is highly symbolic, as Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations nor most global bodies because of China's objections. Beijing says only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the international stage.
In November, China slapped down a move to include Taiwan in the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation. "This fully shows that the one-China principle is unshakable and that pursuing unpopular Taiwan-related proposals is bound to fail," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at the time.
With reporting by Reuters