By Yimou Lee
TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan is working on securing a one-on-one meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and the island’s representative at this week’s APEC summit in San Francisco, but there is no message planned for China, a senior Taiwanese official said.
Chinese-claimed and democratically ruled Taiwan, which takes part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as “Chinese Taipei” and does not send its president to summits, has faced increased military pressure from Beijing, including two rounds of major war games during the past year and a half.
Wellington Koo, head of Taiwan’s National Security Council, told reporters in Taipei that the government was aiming for a meeting between APEC envoy Morris Chang, the 92-year-old founder of chip giant TSMC, and Biden.
“The two sides are discussing related arrangements,” Koo said when asked whether Chang plans to hold an one-on-one meeting with Biden at APEC.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. State Department said that it did not have anything to announce on “specific bilateral meetings” on the summit’s sidelines, but that Biden looked forward to welcoming Taiwan’s participation.
A senior Taiwan official familiar with the matter said that Taiwan had requested such a meeting with the U.S. leader in previous years at APEC, and that the arrangement depended on Biden’s availability.
The United States, like most countries, has no formal ties with Taiwan, but it is the island’s most important international backer and arms provider.
Tensions over Taiwan are likely to feature when Biden meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit.
Koo said Washington and Beijing were divided on major topics, including Taiwan.
“They are fundamentally split on core issues, so the meeting could become a place where they talk past each other,” he said, adding that on Taiwan, neither side is likely to make concessions.
He said, however, that the meeting is necessary because it would an opportunity for Washington to “manage risks” amid Sino-U.S. tensions.
President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday that Taiwan will stress the importance of regional peace at the summit, one of the few international bodies of both Taiwan and China are members and where their officials meet, even if just in passing or for pleasantries.
Asked whether Chang had been tasked with greeting Xi and sending him a message from Tsai, Koo said “no”.
However, he added: “Everything should happen naturally.”
Chang briefly met with Xi at last year’s APEC summit in Bangkok, and discussed semiconductors with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
China cut off a formal talks mechanism with Taiwan after Tsai first won office in 2016, believing her to be a separatist. Tsai says only Taiwan’s people can decide the island’s future and strongly rejects China’s sovereignty claims.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, and Michael Martina and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington. Editing by Gerry Doyle)