Top US defense official arrives in Taiwan on rare visit

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A top US defense official has arrived in Taiwan on a rare visit, the Financial Times reported Friday, a trip bound to further inflame Washington-Beijing tensions over the downing of an alleged Chinese spy balloon.

Deputy Assistant US Secretary of Defense for China, Michael Chase, is the most senior Pentagon official to visit the island since a 2019 trip by the deputy assistant secretary for East Asia, the FT said.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to seize it, opposes any official exchanges with the self-ruled democracy, and has reacted with anger to a flurry of trips to the island by Western politicians in recent years.

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Relations between Beijing and Washington have grown increasingly tense over the balloon - which China insisted was for weather research, while the United States said it was for surveillance, shooting it down earlier this month after it traversed the country.

When asked about reports of Chase’s trip, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said Beijing “firmly opposes official and military contacts between the US and Taiwan.”

At a regular press briefing Friday, Wang Wenbin urged the United States “to stop any form of official and military contacts with Taiwan, to stop meddling in the Taiwan question and to stop creating new tensions across the Taiwan Straits.”

The Pentagon did not confirm the visit but said its “commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.”

“Our support for, and defense relationship with, Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” a spokesperson said.

Taiwanese defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng also declined to confirm the trip.

Tensions spiked last year after a visit by then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, with Beijing carrying out major military exercises in response.

Pelosi’s Republican successor Kevin McCarthy has said he will also visit Taiwan, which the United States supports through military sales but does not recognize.

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