World US holds its second high-profile visit to Taiwan in two months as Beijing escalates military pressure
Almost 40 Chinese warplanes breach Taiwan Strait median line
Taiwan's President has accused Beijing of purposefully inflaming tensions in East Asia, after Chinese warplanes crossed the sensitive median line across the narrow strait that separates the mainland and the self-governing island almost 40 times on Friday and Saturday. © Ministry of National Defence Taiwan Defense Ministry photo shows an Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force H-6 bomber intercepted by Taiwanese fighters on Friday.
A high-profile United States official is visiting Taiwan for the second time in two months, the latest sign of warming ties between Washington and Taipei, as Beijing escalates pressure on the self-governed island through a series of military drills and aircraft incursions.
Keith Krach, the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, arrived in Taiwan late Thursday local time, and will represent the US at the memorial service for former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui on Saturday.
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Krach's visit comes just over a month after US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taiwan in mid-August, ostensibly to discuss coronavirus prevention measures but also in a highly symbolic show of support by the Trump administration for Taipei. Azar was theto visit the island in decades.
The US has maintained close ties with Taiwan since the island split from mainland China in 1949 afterBut since Washington and Beijing established formal diplomatic ties in 1979, the US had largely refrained from sending high-level officials to Taipei so as to not antagonize the Chinese government, which continues to view the self-governing democracy of around 24 million people as an inseparable part of its territory.
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Since taking power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has helped cement China's position as a global superpower -- and pushed forward an aggressive foreign policy, making bolder moves in several key flashpoints across Asia. © Brad Lendon/CNN The Chinese-controlled artificial island of Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, as seen by CNN from a US reconnaissance plane on August 10. From the South China Sea to the Himalayan Sino-Indian border, and even in one of its own cities, China has doubled down on its claims of territory, and taken a harder line in response to perceived challenges.
China's leader, President Xi Jinping, has been clear in his ambitions towith the mainland, and has refused to rule out the use of force, even though the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never exerted direct control over Taiwan.
Krach's intention to pay tribute to former Taiwan President Lee, who died on July 30 at, is highly likely to anger Beijing, experts said.
Yinan He, an associate professor at the Department of International Relations at Lehigh University, said that Lee had been the first Taiwan leader to float the idea of the island being a separate distinct entity from mainland China.
"That makes him No. 1 or No. 2 most-hated person on Beijing's list for Taiwan. So by paying tribute to this person the Trump administration is really poking Beijing in the eye," she said.
The US State Department announced Thursday that Krach was on his way to Taiwan for the memorial service, but didn't give any further information on his schedule or his plans while in Taipei. "As Taiwan's first democratically elected president, Lee ushered in a new era of democracy, economic prosperity, openness, and rule of law," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on her official Twitter account.
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China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said Thursday that the US and Taiwan must "immediately stop" official exchanges. "China firmly opposes any form of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan. This position is consistent and clear," added Wang.
Military tensions rise
Krach's visit comes as Beijing has been ramping up military pressure on Taiwan, holding drills in waters close to the island and flying fighter jets into airspace claimed by Taipei.
On Wednesday, less than 24 hours before Krach left for Taiwan, two Y-8 Anti-Submarine Aircraft flew two sorties into Taiwan's Southwest Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), according to the island's Defense Ministry.
Taiwan's military ordered the two planes to leave the island's airspace before dispatching aircraft to monitor them.
One week earlier, on September 10, Taiwan's Defense Ministry publicly admonished Beijing for entering its ADIZ multiple times during drills by the People's Liberation Army (PLA)(166 kilometers) of Taiwan.
Senior US diplomat wraps up Taiwan visit as China flexes muscle
A top US diplomat attended the funeral for former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui Saturday which featured a eulogy by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama before wrapping up a visit overshadowed by Chinese military exercises. Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, was the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing. The trip, the second high-ranking US visit in as many months, sparked an immediate rebuke from China, which baulks at any recognition of Taiwan and has mounted a decades-long policy of marginalising the democratic island
"These military actions have seriously roiled Taiwan and threaten peace and stability in the region," Vice Defense Minister Chang Che-ping said at a news conference. Taiwan's news agency CNA said that about 30 planes had taken part in the drills, crossing into Taiwan's ADIZ at least 21 times.
Taiwan began the second part of its ownon Monday, after they were delayed for five months due to the coronavirus pandemic. CNA said that the computer-aided military drills will simulate a "similar" situation to the recent Chinese military aircraft incursions into the island's ADIZ.
When asked about the PLA's extensive drills on Wednesday, China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said that the drills were aimed at deterring interference by
Ma said that China was prepared to meet any interference in Taiwan's affairs or attempts at independence with "firm will, full confidence and sufficient capabilities."
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