Beijing has reacted furiously to the US sending a senior diplomat to visit self-ruled Taiwan, which it sees as its territory, warning it will make a “necessary response”.
US undersecretary of state Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday afternoon and is the most senior State Department official to visit the island in 41 years. Beijing said the visit violated the US one-China policy and the “three communiques” that form the basis of US-China ties.
Adding to Beijing’s anger was a meeting the previous day between the US ambassador to the United Nations and Taiwan’s top envoy in New York.
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Accompanied by Robert Destro, assistant secretary of state, and a small group of other officials, Krach arrived at Taipei’s military airport on a civilian plane rather than a US government aircraft as Alex Azar did a month ago. The visit by Azar, the health and human services secretary, also prompted a strong protest from Beijing.
Krach, the undersecretary for economic growth, energy and the environment, will attend a memorial service for former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui – known as the island’s “father of democracy” – on Saturday. He is also expected to meet President Tsai Ing-wen, Premier Su Tseng-chang and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Friday, according to the island’s foreign ministry.
The American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in the absence of formal ties, confirmed Krach would attend the service. “The United States honours President Lee’s legacy by continuing our strong bonds with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values,” the AIT said in a statement.
Taiwanese media had reported that Krach would visit the island to lead the Washington team in a new US-Taiwan economic dialogue that was announced after Tsai agreed to lift a ban on American pork and beef. But there was no mention of trade talks in the AIT statement. And Foreign Minister Wu on Thursday said only that Krach would exchange views with senior Taiwanese economic officials and business leaders on what should be included in the dialogue.
Beijing called the trip provocative and threatened to retaliate.
“The Chinese side resolutely opposes any form of US-Taiwan official exchanges and this has remained our clear position,” mainland foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday.
He said in sending Krach to Taiwan, the US had defied the one-China policy and the “three communiques” agreed by the two sides.
“The move has not only encouraged the separatist forces on the island, but also damaged Sino-US relations and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Wang said. “China will make a necessary response in accordance with the development of the situation.”
Relations between Beijing and Washington have worsened over Taiwan, but also over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, human rights, the South China Sea and a host of other issues.
US ties with Taiwan have meanwhile been warming, and a New York lunch meeting a day before Krach’s visit is likely to have further enraged Beijing.
America’s ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft called her meeting with Taiwanese envoy James Lee “historic” and a further step in Washington’s campaign to strengthen relations with the island.
“I’m looking to do the right thing by my president, and I feel that he has sought to strengthen and deepen this bilateral relationship with Taiwan and I want to continue that on behalf of the administration,” she told Associated Press.
A US plan to sell as many as seven major weapons systems – including mines, cruise missiles and drones – to Taiwan, reported by Reuters on Wednesday, is expected to add to the tensions.
Albert Chiu Shih-yi, a political science professor at Tunghai University in Taichung, said Krach’s visit would be “more symbolic than having any practical substance”.
But combined with the New York meeting and the new arms sales, it could add insult to injury for Beijing at the height of US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, he said.
“This could backfire,” Chiu said, adding that Taipei should tread carefully to avoid inflaming the situation.
Tensions are already running high. The night before Krach’s visit, two People’s Liberation Army warplanes approached Taiwan in yet another incursion signalling growing mainland hostility towards the island.
The PLA Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft briefly entered the southwest of the island’s air defence identification zone on Wednesday night and were warned off by Taiwan’s air force, the island’s defence ministry said on Thursday.
Last week, multiple fighter jets approached the same area in what Tsai called a serious provocation that would escalate cross-strait tensions and affect regional peace and stability.
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