By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department on Friday issued new guidelines that will enable U.S. officials to meet more freely with officials from Taiwan, a move that deepens relations with Taipei amid stepped-up Chinese military activity around the island.
"These new guidelines liberalize guidance on contacts with Taiwan, consistent with our unofficial relations," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The aim, he said, was "to encourage U.S. government engagement with Taiwan that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship."
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced days before the end of former President Donald Trump's presidency in January that he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts.
Price said the new guidelines had followed a congressionally mandated review and would "provide clarity throughout the Executive Branch on effective implementation of our 'one China' policy" - a reference to the long-standing U.S. policy under which Washington officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei.
Another State Department spokesman said the new guidelines meant, for example, that working-level meetings with Taiwanese officials were now encouraged in federal buildings and could also take place at Taiwan's representative office.
"Those meetings were prohibited under previous guidance," he said.
A report on the Financial Times website shortly before the release of Price's statement said U.S. officials would also be able to attend events at Twin Oaks, an estate in Washington that served as the residence of Taiwan's ambassador until the United States switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
However, it quoted a U.S. official as saying there would still be some “guard rails,” such as not allowing officials to attend functions at Twin Oaks on major Taiwanese holidays that might complicate the U.S. "One-China" policy.
Taiwan's representative office in Washington welcomed a move "substantively reflecting deepening ties between Taiwan and the United States."
It noted that it came at a time of increasing cooperation in areas such as global health, economics and regional security and enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States.
The State Department announcement comes at a time of raised tensions over Taiwan, which China claims as its own. Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China's air force near the island.
The White House on Friday said it was keeping a close watch on increased Chinese military activities in the Taiwan Strait, and called Beijing's recent actions potentially destabilizing.
Beijing on Thursday blamed the United States for tensions after a U.S. warship sailed close to Taiwan.
Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial issue and a major bone of contention with Washington, which is required by U.S. law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
China believes the United States is colluding with Taiwan to challenge Beijing and giving support to those who want the island to declare formal independence.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler, Marguerita Choy and Sonya Hepinstall)