As tensions with China continue to escalate, Brent Christensen, the de facto US ambassador in Chinese-claimed Taiwan, participated on Sunday in the commemoration of the key military faceoff between Taiwanese and Chinese forces in 1958.

A statement issued by the American Institute in Taiwan, of which Christensen is the head, said, "Commemorations such as these remind us that today's US-Taiwan security cooperation builds on a long and proud history that exemplifies the phrase 'Real Friends, Real Progress."

Increased Chinese Military Activity

China has stepped up military activity around the democratic island, moves denounced by Taiwan's government as an attempt at intimidation to force them to accept Chinese rule. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen laid a wreath and bowed her head in respect at a memorial park on Kinmen island, which sits a few kilometers (miles) off the Chinese metropolis of Xiamen, to mark the 62nd anniversary of the start of the second Taiwan Straits crisis.

US China flag
US China flags (Representational Picture) Reuters

In August 1958, Chinese forces began more than a month of bombarding Kinmen, along with the Taiwan-controlled Matsu archipelago further up the coast, including naval and air battles, seeking to force them into submission.

Christensen, as Washington's de facto representative, offered his respects too, standing behind Tsai, in a symbolic show of US support for the island. Christensen also laid wreaths at a monument honoring two US military officers who died in a 1954 Chinese attack on Kinmen, the institute said. Taiwan's presidential office thanked Christensen for participating on a day it said serves to remind Taiwan's people of the importance of defending freedom and democracy.

A Key Military Engagement

China's Taiwan affairs office did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment on the commemoration. Washington has no formal ties with Taipei but is its largest arms supplier. President Donald Trump's administration has made bolstering relations a priority, to Beijing's anger.

Like Tsai, Christensen did not make public comments. Taiwan fought back at the time with support from the United States, which sent military equipment like advanced Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles, giving Taiwan a technological edge. The crisis ended in a stalemate.

Major General Liu Qiang-hua, the spokesman for the Kinmen Defence Command, said it was important to remember an event that was crucial to ensuring Taiwan's security. "Of course we hope there is no war, but it is dangerous to forget about war. This is the spirit we need to safeguard," he told Reuters.

Formerly called Quemoy in English, Kinmen today is a popular tourist destination, though remnants of past fighting like underground bunkers are scattered across the island, and Taiwan maintains a significant military presence.

(With inputs from agencies)