Senior US State Department official to visit Taiwan for weekend memorial service

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach will visit Taiwan for a memorial service for former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui on Saturday, the US State Department said – a move likely to anger Beijing at a time when US-China ties are at their lowest ebb in decades.

“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,” a State Department statement announcing Krach’s trip said on Wednesday (Sept 16).

The announcement had been widely expected after the senior US diplomat for East Asia, David Stilwell, said last month that the United States would bolster ties with Taiwan by establishing a new economic dialogue with the island. He said subsequently that Krach would lead it.

The State Department statement made no mention of the dialogue.

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was asked about the possibility of a visit by Krach to Taipei and said China firmly opposed official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan, while warning of serious damage to China-US relations.

US Health Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan last month, the highest level US official to travel to the island since Washington broke off diplomatic ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979.

Lee Teng-hui, who died on July aged 97, was dubbed “Mr Democracy” for burying autocratic rule in Taiwan in favour of freewheeling pluralism.

He thrived on defying China’s drive to absorb an island it regards as a wayward province.

The United States, like most countries, has official relations with Beijing, not Taiwan, but Washington is bound by law to help Taiwan defend itself and is its main arms supplier.

Reuters reported earlier on Wednesday that the United States plans to sell as many as seven major weapons systems, including mines, cruise missiles and drones to Taiwan, as President Donald Trump ramps up pressure on China ahead of his November re-election bid.

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