US trade chief Katherine Tai met Taiwanese Minister Without Portfolio John Deng to discuss opportunities to deepen the nations’ economic relationship in the same week China’s top diplomat warned Washington it’s heading down the “wrong road” with its support for the island.

Tai and Deng “discussed opportunities to deepen the economic relationship, advance mutual trade priorities based on shared values, and promote innovation and inclusive economic growth for their workers and businesses,” the Office of the US Trade Representative said in an emailed statement Friday. They met in Bangkok on the sidelines of a gathering of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers.

US trade chief Katherine Tai
US trade chief Katherine Tai

The pair “directed their teams to explore concrete ways to deepen the US-Taiwan trade and investment relationship and to meet again in the coming weeks to discuss the path forward,” according to the USTR statement. They had previously met virtually at least twice, including last month, since Tai became the trade representative in March 2021.

The meeting comes as President Joe Biden begins a five-day trip to Asia where he’s seeking to increase engagement with regional allies to face the economic and security challenges posed by China. Earlier this week, a group of more than 50 US senators wrote to Biden urging him to include Taiwan as a partner in the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that his administration plans to role out during the trip.

The Taiwanese delegation restated Taipei’s long-held goal of signing a free-trade agreement with the US, Deng said in a telephone interview Friday.

“The meeting showed the US has a strong commitment to finding a path forward in a very concrete way to developing our economic ties together,” he said, describing the meeting as “very positive”.

Fourteen Chinese military aircraft flew into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone Friday, according to a statement on the website of the Defense Ministry in Taipei. Beijing frequently uses these incursions to signal its displeasure with official interactions between Taiwan and the US.

The US has stepped up its backing for Taiwan since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, with a group of senior senators including Republican Lindsey Graham visiting last month. China responded to that trip by conducting air and naval training near the island.

Figures on both sides of the Pacific have raised the possibility of allowing Taiwan to join the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the Biden administration’s key initiative to counter China’s influence in Asia.

The two sides did not touch upon the framework during Friday’s meeting as the USTR is not yet authorized to discuss Taiwan’s participation, Deng said.

In a phone call with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan this week, Yang Jiechi, Beijing’s top diplomat, said if the US “insists on playing the Taiwan card and goes further and further down the wrong road, it will certainly lead the situation to a dangerous point.”