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U.S. announcement of health secretarys visit to Taiwan likely to anger China

Taiwan conducts annual drills as tensions with China escalate

"The Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations", Wang said at a daily briefing.

Azar's visit comes amid worsening Beijing-Washington relations, inflamed over trade, the pandemic and human rights, even as Taiwan has welcomed the show of support in the face of unrelenting Chinese pressure.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar will visit Taiwan in coming days, his office said Tuesday, marking the highest-level visit by a U.S. official since formal ties ended in 1979 - a move China described as "endangering peace".

Shortly after his election Trump became the first United States leader since 1979 to speak directly with his Taiwanese counterpart when Tsai phoned to congratulate him.

The one-China principle is the political foundation of Sino-U.S. relations and a common consensus of the worldwide community, Wang said.

During his visit, Azar will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said, which may infuriate China further.

The statement notes that in 2018, Trump signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, and says this visit is part of the US policy of sending high-ranking officials to reaffirm the US-Taiwan friendship.

Azar would be the first HHS secretary to visit Taiwan and the first Cabinet member to visit in six years, the last being then-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The Ministry added that the visit showed firm US support for Taiwan - and the closeness of their relationship.

Like most countries, however, the USA has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, having ditched Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979.

Taiwan's strong performance in handling its COVID-19 outbreak has also won it plaudits while highlighting its exclusion from the World Health Organization and other United Nations bodies.

In addition to Ms Tsai, Mr Azar will also be meeting Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung, as well as medical experts and front-line medical workers handling Covid-19 cases. Despite its close proximity to China, where the global pandemic is believed to have originated, the island of 23 million has recorded just 476 cases and seven deaths from COVID-19, largely as a result of rigorous testing and case tracing.

China has responded by issuing hands-off warnings to the USA military, dispatching naval vessels through the Taiwan Strait and conducting large-scale military drills that simulate the island's capture.

"Taipei and D.C. are no doubt carefully weighing the pros and cons of increasing in-person official contacts, which of course Beijing watches closely".