China Says Biden-Backed Visit Raises Tensions Over Taiwan

China criticized the U.S. for sending a group of former officials to Taiwan, saying the move will only add to mounting tensions.

Two former deputy secretaries of state, Richard Armitage and James Steinberg, and former Senator Christopher Dodd arrived in Taipei Wednesday afternoon as part of a White House delegation marking the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. law governing Washington’s unofficial relationship with Taipei.

The American visitors will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen and senior national security officials during their three-day stay.

“Such a meeting is not helpful for improving cross-strait ties and stabilizing the cross-strait region,” said Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the Beijing office that handles matters related to the democratically ruled island.

“This will only add to the tensions. Of course, such a meeting cannot change the fact that Taiwan is a part of China.”

The delegation had to undergo multiple tests for Covid-19 before and after arriving at Taiwan and will have to maintain social distancing and wear masks at all times, the Taipei-based Central News Agency reported, citing Central Epidemic Command Center spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang. He said it is the same “diplomatic bubble” that was used during U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s visit to Taiwan last August.

The visit comes after China escalated its military intimidation of the government in Taipei by sending 25 fighters, bombers and other planes into the southwest section of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone Monday.

The sortie was the largest China has sent close to Taiwan this year. The Taiwanese air force responded by sending patrol aircraft to the area and tracking the Chinese planes with missile defense systems, Taipei’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.

Chinese military activity has steadily picked up around Taiwan in recent months. The Chinese Defense Ministry said last week that its Liaoning aircraft carrier had carried out exercises near Taiwan and the navy is planning more drills. The People’s Liberation Army also said that it monitored the USS John S. McCain destroyer as it sailed through the Taiwan Strait.

The arrival of the American delegation is the first high-level contact between Washington and Taipei since the U.S. State Department on Friday restored rules governing officials’ contacts with Taiwan that were lifted near the end of the Trump administration. China claims Taiwan as its own territory, an assertion the government in Taipei rejects, insisting the islands that comprise Taiwan are an already de facto sovereign nation.

The State Department didn’t detail ways in which the guidelines will be loosened. But two people familiar with the move said that U.S. officials would be allowed to host Taiwanese officials at U.S. federal buildings and meet Taiwanese counterparts at their government offices.

A senior Japanese official floated the idea of following the U.S. lead on easing restrictions on contact with Taipei. Vice defense minister Yasuhide Nakayama wrote in a tweet Wednesday that the Japanese government should consider the same policy as the U.S. and implement it quickly if possible.

Washington and Beijing have been trading warnings regarding Taiwan since President Joe Biden took office in January, adding to tensions that increased steadily during the Trump administration. On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China should avoid encroaching on Taiwan, adding Beijing was fomenting tensions in the strait with “aggressive actions.”

The State Department said in January that Washington had a “rock solid” commitment to Taipei after China flew more than a dozen military aircraft, including the H-6K bombers, over the strait. The bombers are believed to be capable of carrying land-attack cruise missiles.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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