US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he is sending UN Ambassador Kelly Craft to Taiwan next week to show “what a free China could achieve,” an announcement that sparked sharp criticism from Beijing and a warning that “the United States will pay a heavy price for its wrong action.”

Pompeo on Thursday called Taiwan “a reliable partner and vibrant democracy that has flourished despite CCP (Chinese Communist Party) efforts to undermine its great success”.

China’s UN Mission said in a statement from its spokesperson that Beijing “firmly opposes” Craft’s visit. It said that “there is only one China in the world and the Taiwan region is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”

“The United States will not succeed in its attempt to harm China’s core interests through political manipulation on the Taiwan question,” the unidentified spokesperson said. “We wish to remind the United States that whoever plays with fire will burn himself.”

American relations with democratic Taiwan have warmed, largely due to strong bipartisan support in the US Congress, but the Trump administration has also been willing to defy Beijing’s threats and promote an alternative to Chinese Communist Party authoritarianism.

The US outreach to Taiwan has exacerbated tensions between Washington and Beijing over the COVID-19 pandemic, trade, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

China has been stepping up its threats to bring the self-governing island under its control by military force with frequent war games and aerial patrols. It has been using its diplomatic clout to stop Taiwan from joining any organisations that require statehood for membership.

Taiwan left the United Nations in 1971 when China joined and is excluded from all of its agencies, including the World Health Organisation’s assembly, where Taiwan’s observer status has been stripped. At the same time, it has one of the most robust public health systems in the world and has won praise for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Trump administration has been pressing for Taiwan’s inclusion as a separate entity in international organisations like the WHO and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

– AP