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US announces highest-level visit to Taiwan since 1979

11:06 PM Aug 05, 2020 | Agencies

The U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services is scheduled to visit Taiwan in coming days in the highest-level visit by an American Cabinet official since the break in formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979.

The visit by Alex Azar, and especially a planned meeting with Taiwan's president, will likely create new friction between the U.S. and China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.

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Taiwan is a key irritant in the troubled relationship between the world's two largest economies, which are also at odds over trade, technology, territorial claims in the South China Sea and China's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China has lodged "solemn complaints" over the visit with U.S. officials in both Beijing and Washington.

"The Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations," Wang said at a daily briefing. He said Washington needs to stop all forms of official contact with Taiwan and make good on its commitment to Beijing to "avoid serious damage to China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait." The U.S. maintains only unofficial ties with Taiwan in deference to Beijing, but is the island's most important ally and provider of defense equipment.

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