The U.S. Undersecretary of State for economic Affairs Keith Krach will visit Taiwan on Saturday to attend a memorial service for former Taiwanese leader Lee Teng-hui, the State Department said Wednesday, a move likely to anger Beijing at a time when U.S. -china relations are at their lowest point in decades.
The visit was widely expected to be announced Wednesday, after The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, David Stilwell, said last month that Washington would strengthen ties with Taiwan by establishing new bilateral economic talks. He later said Mr. Crouch would lead the trip.
The State Department statement, however, made no mention of the dialogue. Analysts say it appears to reflect disagreements in Washington over how to handle economic issues with Taiwan and avoid upsetting Beijing too much.
On Monday, when asked about the possibility of A visit by Mr. Krach to Taipei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China firmly opposes official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan, and warned that it would cause serious damage to u.s.-China relations.
U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan last month, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island since Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979.
Taiwan experts say they believe Mr. Crouch will be the highest-ranking U.S. State Department official to visit Taiwan publicly since 1979.
“The United States respects President Lee’s legacy and continues to maintain close ties with Taiwan by sharing political and economic values, as well as Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” the STATE Department said in a statement announcing The visit. Lee teng-hui died in July at the age of 97.
Derek Scissors, a China expert at the Conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Mr. Krage’s decision to attend the memorial set the stage for further discussion of the formal structure of the economic talks.
“While China would oppose any visit by US officials to Taiwan, the US has chosen to treat it as a one-off event,” he said. It will be better for Beijing than starting a series of visits.”
The United States, like most countries, has official ties with Beijing, not Taiwan, but Washington is legally obligated to help Taiwan defend itself and is a major arms supplier to the island.
Reuters reported earlier on Thursday that Washington plans to sell Up to seven major weapons systems to Taiwan, including mines, cruise missiles and drones. US President Donald Trump has stepped up pressure on China ahead of his re-election campaign in November.
Douglas Paal, a former US representative to Taiwan, said Beijing wanted to avoid making the relationship more prominent in the US election, and Mr Trump did not want to derail the first phase of a trade deal with China.
“I don’t think this visit crossed a bright red line that would force a strong reaction from China,” he said. So, it just routinely objects.”
“Moreover, Beijing recognises that Mr Trump will not authorise his staff to take really bold action against China, perhaps for fear of losing Chinese agricultural purchases in the Midwest ahead of the election.”
Taiwan has long sought a free trade agreement with the US, but Washington wants to rebalance its huge trade deficit and remove trade barriers to US agricultural products.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced last month that The island would allow the United States to import pork containing ractopamine and beef from The United States that is more than 30 months old. Ractopamine is a lean additive.