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'Staunch' friend of Taiwan's to become top US diplomat in Taipei, sources say

TAIPEI - A staunch friend of Taiwan's will this summer take over as the top US diplomat in Taipei, three sources briefed on the matter said, roughly coinciding with the island's new president taking office at a time of rising tensions with China.

Like most nations, the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, but is its most important international backer and arms supplier, to Beijing's anger. China has ramped up political and military pressure against Taiwan.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters that Raymond Greene, currently deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Tokyo, will replace Sandra Oudkirk as director of the American Institute in Taiwan, or AIT.

AIT handles relations between the United States and Taiwan in the absence of official relations. Career diplomat Greene, who was deputy head of AIT before going to Japan, will be the de facto US ambassador in Taipei.

AIT referred questions to the US State Department, which did not respond to a request for comment.

"Greene is viewed here as a staunch friend of Taiwan's and knows Taiwan well," one of the sources said.

A second source said Greene, who speaks both Japanese and Mandarin, would also be able to serve as a useful conduit between Taiwan and Japan, given Tokyo's concerns about possible Chinese military action against the island.

Greene will be assuming his new role as Taiwan's new president, Lai Ching-te, takes charge. Lai, who won election in January but is not inaugurated until May 20, is detested by China which views him as a dangerous separatist and has rebuffed his offers of talks.

Lai says only Taiwan's people can decide their future, and