Former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, who is currently serving as vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, will visit Taiwan next week, the party announced Friday in a move that triggered a backlash from China.
Aso, 82, will be the highest-ranking LDP member to visit Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island that Communist-led China regards as its own territory, since Tokyo switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 1972, according to the party.
During his planned three-day trip through Wednesday, Aso plans on Tuesday to hold separate meetings with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Vice President Lai Ching-te with the aim of reinforcing relations with the island, the LDP said.
Lai is a major candidate from Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the presidential election scheduled for next January.
Aso met with Lai's major contenders -- New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih of the main opposition Nationalist Party and former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, chairman of the opposition Taiwan People's Party -- when they visited Japan earlier this year.
The second-highest ranking LDP figure after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will also visit the grave of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui on Monday and deliver a speech at an international forum on Tuesday, according to the party.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it welcomes Aso's planned visit, adding that it appreciates the "practical action" he is taking in support of the island.
His visit "will not only highlight the solid friendship between Taiwan and Japan but will also further deepen cooperation in various fields," the ministry said.
The visit comes amid China stepping up military pressure on Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. China opposes any official contact between Taipei and other countries.
"China has consistently and resolutely opposed Japanese politicians' visits to Taiwan for political benefit," a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a written response to Kyodo News over the planned visit by Aso.
In August last year, the Chinese military conducted large-scale drills around Taiwan in response to a trip to the island by then U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who held talks with Tsai.
Against a backdrop of intensifying U.S.-China geopolitical rivalry, Japan emphasizes it seeks to continue cooperating with Taiwan, the world's leading chip supplier, on economic security issues, such as diversifying semiconductor supply chains.
Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since they split due to a civil war in 1949.