US envoy joins Taiwan president in marking deadly Chinese attack

US envoy joins Taiwan president in marking deadly Chinese attack

13:55 - U.S. envoy William Brent Christensen joined the president of Taiwan on Sunday in marking the 62nd anniversary of a deadly Chinese attack, amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Christensen, the de facto U.S. ambassador in Taiwan, became the first U.S. representative to attend ceremonies commemorating the 1958 Chinese bombing on Kinmen, an island controlled by Taiwan near mainland China, Reuters reported.

Christensen, the head of the American Institute in Taiwan, accompanied President Tsai Ing-wen as she laid a wreath and bowed her head at a memorial park. He also laid wreaths at a monument for two U.S. military officers who died in a 1954 attack on Kinmen.

Neither Christensen nor Tsai spoke at the event.

“Commemorations such as these remind us that today’s U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation builds on a long and proud history that exemplifies the phrase ‘Real Friends, Real Progress,” the institute said in a statement obtained by Reuters.

Taiwan’s presidential office expressed gratitude that Christensen took part in the annual event, adding that it is a reminder of the importance of freedom and democracy.

The U.S. does not have official ties with Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty. But the U.S. is Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier and President Trump's administration has prioritized improving relations with Taiwan, to China’s disapproval.

China has increased military activity surrounding the island, prompting criticism from Taiwan’s government, according to Reuters.

The American Institute in Taiwan operates as a nonprofit organization instead of an embassy, but State Department employees staff the institute, The Associated Press noted.

China has denounced the warming U.S. relations with Taiwan. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alexander Azar visited the country earlier this month for the highest-level meeting of U.S. and Taiwan officials in decades.

The improving relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. comes as relations are souring between the U.S. and China over issues like technology, spying accusations, trade, the South China Sea and China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.