US announces ‘highest level’ visit in decades to Taiwan

TAIPEI — The United States on Wednesday announced its “highest level” visit in decades to Taiwan, a move sure to infuriate China at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing are at historic lows.

(FILES) This file photo taken on May 15, 2020 shows US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar (R) speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC as US President Donald Trump (L) looks on. The United States will make its “highest level” visit in decades to Taiwan, Washington’s trade office said on August 5, 2020, as it confirmed Azar would lead an upcoming delegation. Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP

Washington’s trade office in Taipei confirmed that health chief Alex Azar would lead an upcoming delegation to the self-ruled island, which China’s communist leaders claim and have vowed to one day seize.

“This marks… the first Cabinet member to visit in six years, and the highest level visit by a US Cabinet official since 1979,” the American Institute in Taiwan said.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry confirmed the trip and said Azar would meet the island’s foreign and health ministers.

“Secretary Azar is a long-time staunch friend of Taiwan,” the ministry said, describing his upcoming trip as “ample evidence of the solid foundation of mutual trust” between Washington and Taipei.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979.

It remains the leading arms supplier to the island but has historically been cautious in holding official contacts with it.

That has changed dramatically under US President Donald Trump, who has started to embrace Taiwan more as a way to hit back at Beijing as the two superpowers increasingly clash.

The last cabinet-level trip to Taiwan was in 2014 when the then head of the Environmental Protection Agency visited.

The most recent before that was a trip in 2000 by a transport secretary under US President Bill Clinton.

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