The U.S. government said Wednesday that it will send a senior State Department official to Taiwan to attend the memorial service for former President Lee Teng-hui this weekend, a move that could upset China as it remains wary of any appearance of U.S. official contact with the island.
The trip to Taiwan by Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, comes after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled there last month, becoming the most senior U.S. official to visit the self-ruled island since 1979.
In 1979, Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
The series of visits by senior government officials can be seen as a gesture of U.S. support for Taiwan amid intensifying U.S.-China confrontations on several economic and security matters, including business practices, trade, technology, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
The State Department said in a statement announcing Krach's trip that it honors Lee's legacy "by continuing our strong bonds with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values."
As the department has also recently announced the launch of a new economic dialogue with Taipei, Krach may hold talks on the issue during his planned trip.
The dialogue is expected to explore the "full spectrum" of the economic relationship, such as semiconductors, health care, energy and beyond, said David Stilwell, the State Department's top diplomat for East Asia, in comments late last month.
Taiwan and China have been governed separately since they split during a civil war in 1949. Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, has since endeavored to bring the island into its fold.
Lee, Taiwan's first popularly elected leader, died at age 97 in late July.