US Secretary of State Antony Blinken used the word "country" when he mentioned Taiwan during a congressional hearing this week, breaking a previous taboo among US officials about using such langauge to refer to the self-governing island to avoid irritating China, the Taiwan News reported.
During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Biden administration's foreign policy agenda, Blinken was responding to California Republican Representative Young Kim, who called on the United States to include Taiwan in the upcoming Democracy Summit.
"I share your view that Taiwan is a strong democracy, a very strong technological power, and a country that can contribute to the world, not just to its own people. COVID is a very good example of that," Blinken said.
The State Department used to have an unwritten policy to avoid using the word "country" when referring to the self-ruled island as part of the US commitment to Beijing's so-called "One China Policy".
China considers Taiwan as a breakaway province that should be reunified with the mainland one day.
Chinese authorities often protest strongly if government officials or companies around the world call Taiwan a country. A number of international companies including the Marriott hotel chain have been forced to apologise to China after they listed Taiwan in the same group as other countries in the world.
The Trump administration officially lifted its restrictions on official contact with Taiwan on 10 January, towards the end of the term, including prohibitions on using the terms "country" or "government". The move drew harsh criticism from Beijing.
Blinken is expected to meet with senior Chinese diplomats next week in Alaska for the first face-to-face meeting between senior officials from both countries under the new administration in Washington.
Previously, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden administration would approach its relations with China "in lockstep" with its partners.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian commented on the future meeting earlier, saying that China and the United States can move relations back onto a "healthy and stable" track, forsake the Cold War mentality, and respect China's sovereignty, security, and interests.
According to a bilateral State Department fact sheet, the US and Taiwan enjoy an unofficial relationship, but Washington does not support the island's independence. A 1979 pact with China switched US diplomatic recognition to Beijing, although The Taiwan Relations Act, passed by Congress in that same year, allows Washington to support the island's defensive capabilities.
China's foreign minister Wang Yi urged the new US administration last week "to fully understand the high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue" and abandon "dangerous practices of crossing the line and playing with fire".