Washington, April 16 (CNA) New guidelines issued by the U.S. State Department last week on government contacts with Taiwan constitute "a huge step forward," as they explicitly encourage engagement and remove restrictions that have hampered closer ties in the past, a senior official in the department said Friday.
Sandra Oudkirk, deputy assistant secretary of state for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, made the remarks in a virtual discussion with Taiwan's Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang hosted by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
During the discussion, Oudkirk noted that the U.S. has for decades maintained close unofficial relations with Taiwan that are consistent with its one-China policy and guided by the Taiwan Relations Act.
On April 9, Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved new "liberalized" guidelines to encourage Executive Branch engagement with Taiwan that better reflect the sides' "deepening and broadening unofficial relationship," she said.
Oudkirk said the updated guidance represents "a huge step forward" from prior versions, including the contact guidance that was in place from 2015 until early this year.
The new guidance "explicitly encourages engagement with Taiwanese counterparts" and "removes overly-onerous restrictions that complicated our ability to engage with Taiwan on issues of mutual concern," she said.
The new guidelines, which have not been released to the public, are said to encourage U.S. officials to hold regular meetings with Taiwanese counterparts in U.S. federal buildings and at Taiwan's U.S. representative offices.
They also reportedly allow officials to attend events at Twin Oaks, the former residence of Taiwanese ambassadors to the U.S. that is now used for official functions, but prohibit them from attending on Taiwanese holidays, such as the Double Ten National Day, that might conflict with Washington's one-China policy.
An order issued by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January lifted nearly all restrictions on contacts between the two sides.
A diplomatic source had told CNA that while both Pompeo and Secretary of State Antony Blinken favor expanding contacts with Taiwan, some U.S. officials had expressed uncertainty about Pompeo's decision to remove all guidance on the subject.
After taking office, Blinken decided that there should be written guidelines on the issue, and used the revision process as a means of definitively scrapping some of the restrictions that had hampered U.S.-Taiwan interactions in the past, the official said.
During the discussion at the Heritage Foundation, Oudkirk also highlighted the U.S. and Taiwan's joint work with Pacific Island countries, including initiatives under the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF) and a Coast Guard working group the two sides set up last month.