The US has reached a modest trade agreement with Taiwansignalling Washingtons support for island democracy when it comes under increasing pressure from China.

The first deal under the US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade is expected to set the stage for a bigger deal later — “a robust trade agreement of high standards,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said.

The initiative announced Thursday will, among other things, cut red tape at customs and reduce waiting times for American companies bringing products into Taiwan. It also commits the United States and Taiwan to take steps to combat bribery and other forms of corruption and to encourage more trade with small and medium-sized enterprises.

The agreement does not require approval from the US Congress. But it is broad bipartisan support in Washington for Taiwan, an island of 23 million that split from China when the Communists took over the mainland in 1949 and has since developed into a prosperous democracy. Beijing regards Taiwan as a superior Chinese province and has long demanded its reunification.

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Relations between the US and China – the world’s two largest economies – have deteriorated in recent years. The United States accuses China of bizarre economic practices and has criticized Beijing’s crackdown on dissidents in Hong Kong and the Muslim region of Xinjiang and its bullying of neighbors, including Taiwan, over territorial claims.

“Beijing will likely complain about this announcement, but its words will fall on deaf ears in Washington as negotiations continue” with Taiwan, said Wendy Cutler, vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former U.S. trade negotiator.

Taiwan is the world leading manufacturer of computer chips. The U.S. last year bought $105 billion worth of goods and services from Taiwan, making it the tenth largest source of U.S. imports. American exports to Taiwan totaled nearly $55 billion, making it America’s 15th largest foreign market.

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