The United States on Wednesday announced its high-level visit to Taiwan since it transferred diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a move Beijing called a threat to “peace and stability.”
The visit, led by health chief Alex Azar, comes as relations between the world‘s two greatest powers plunge to historically low levels.
“This marks … the first Cabinet member to visit in six years, and the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since 1979,” Washington’s de facto embassy, the American Institute told Taiwan, no date at this time. .
Washington remains the island’s main arms supplier, but has always been cautious in its official contacts with it.
Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory – vowing to capture it one day – and bristles at any attempt by other countries to recognize or communicate with Taipei.
“China strongly opposes official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, calling for the visit to be canceled.
“We urge the United States to abide by the one-China principle … to avoid seriously endangering Sino-US relations, as well as peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Taiwan said Azar would meet with President Tsai Ing-wen.
“(The) timely visit is another testament to the strong Taiwan-US partnership based on our long-standing friendship and shared values,” Tsai wrote on Twitter.
Relations heated up considerably under President Donald Trump, who more closely used the adoption of democratic Taiwan as a means of retaliating against authoritarian Beijing as it clashed with China on a host of issues, including trade and the coronavirus.
– Blossoming friendship –
Taiwan’s success in halting its own virus outbreak – and its emergence as one of Asia’s most progressive democracies – has also earned the island growing bipartisan support in Washington.
“The Trump administration is increasing its relations with Taiwan to an all time high, sending a message to China that the United States will not sacrifice Taiwan for its relations with China,” said Eric Huang, international relations analyst at the ‘Tamkang University of Taipei. AFP.
Shortly after Trump’s election victory in 2016, Tsai phoned to congratulate him, making him the first president – current or newly elected – to speak directly with a Taiwanese leader since 1979.
Taiwan is massively overtaken by China, and the Trump administration has sold a number of expensive military items – including fighter jets – that the more wary of Beijing’s wrath of the past presidents had hesitated against.
Trump also signed a bipartisan bill in 2018 improving relations and allowing for more high-level visits.
In their statements, Washington and Taipei described Azar’s visit as being linked to Taiwan as a major example in the fight against the pandemic.
Despite its proximity and close economic ties to China – where the epidemic emerged late last year – Taiwan has fewer than 500 cases and only seven deaths thanks to a world-class tracing and testing regime and to the virtual closure of its borders.
– ‘Less controversial’ –
But Beijing sees Azar’s visit as part of a larger attempt to give Taiwan greater international recognition.
He has stepped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan since Tsai’s election in 2016, which rejects Beijing’s view that the island is part of “one China.”
It keeps Taiwan diplomatically excluded from global bodies such as the World Health Organization, and has debauched its dwindling number of official allies.
This lobbying campaign only strengthened Tsai, who won a landslide re-election earlier this year.
“Beijing … will likely view (the visit) as further evidence of the Trump administration’s abandonment of the ‘one China policy’,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project, told AFP at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. .
“But this is not a precedent and is justified given Taiwan’s exemplary performance in response to COVID-19 and Taiwan’s exclusion from Taiwan from the World Health Assembly.”
Clayton Dube, director of the US-China Institute at the University of Southern California, said sending a health official should be “less controversial” than an envoy from the State Department or the Pentagon.
The last cabinet-level trip to Taiwan was in 2014 with the then head of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2000, a transport secretary visited.
(This story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)