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The United States and Taiwan signed a trade deal Thursday aimed at deepening economic relations between both sides -- in a move that has sparked a warning from Beijing.
The US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade looks to boost trade by streamlining customs checks, improving regulatory procedures, and establishing anticorruption measures between the United States and the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.
While Washington and Taipei do not have official diplomatic relations, they maintain unofficial ties through the de facto US embassy on the island, the American Institute in Taiwan.
The first agreement under the latest initiative was signed by representatives of the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, said the US Trade Representative's (USTR) press office on Thursday.
The pact is "intended to strengthen and deepen the economic and trade relationship" between both sides, USTR spokesperson Sam Michel added in a statement.
Deputy US Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi attended the signing ceremony, he said.
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"We thank our Taiwan partners for helping us reach this important milestone and look forward to upcoming negotiations on additional trade areas set forth in the initiative's negotiating mandate," Michel said.
Washington has remained a key ally and arms supplier to Taiwan despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It is also the island's second-largest trade partner.
But Beijing detests any hint of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and other governments because it considers the self-ruled island its own territory.
"The deal that will be signed tonight is not only very historic but also signals a new beginning," cabinet spokesman Alan Lin told reporters in Taipei, ahead of Thursday's ceremony in the United States.
"Relevant tasks are yet to be completed.... Taiwan will continue to move towards a comprehensive FTA (free trade agreement) with the United States to ensure Taiwan's economic security," he added.
Taiwan's government has described the deal as "the most comprehensive" trade agreement signed with Washington since 1979.
China warned Washington earlier on Thursday against signing any pact "with connotations of sovereignty or of an official nature with China's Taiwan region."
The United States "must not send the wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces in the name of trade," foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a media briefing.
Beijing has stepped up threats and rhetoric against Taiwan in recent years, increasing military drills in the seas around the island and working to cut off its official ties with countries around the world.
The issue prompts rare bipartisan agreement in the United States, with politicians including Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his Democratic predecessor Nancy Pelosi both meeting publicly with Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen.
Washington unveiled plans for the trade negotiations in August in a show of support while Beijing was staging huge military drills in response to then-speaker Pelosi's visit to Taipei.
China lashes out at any diplomatic action that appears to treat Taiwan as a sovereign nation and has reacted with growing anger to visits by Western politicians.
In April, Beijing conducted three days of military exercises simulating a blockade of the island in response to McCarthy and Tsai meeting in California.