The United States has sent a senior Pentagon official to Taiwan amid concerns that Beijing is trying to influence the island’s presidential election, which takes place in January . Deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia Heino Klinck reportedly visited Taiwan last week in an apparent response to US concern about various efforts – including military attempts – by Beijing to intimidate the island ahead of the January 11 poll. Klinck is the first senior American defence official to visit the island since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979. His trip is considered a major elevation in the unofficial but robust US-Taiwan relations, and is expected to infuriate Beijing, which has repeatedly warned Washington against high-level exchanges with Taipei. Beijing regards Taiwan as a wayward province that must be returned to the mainland’s fold, by force if necessary. It has asked Washington to observe the one-China policy, and warned that failure to do so would hurt American ties with the mainland. Klinck’s visit was revealed on Friday by Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Centre, during a seminar on Chinese threats to Taiwanese sovereignty at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “Just in the last 24 hours, we have witnessed the House passing a landmark bill on Hong Kong, but less reported has been the first visit probably since 1979 of a deputy assistant secretary of defence to Taipei, a very significant elevation in our military and diplomatic relationships with Taiwan,” Fisher said in the seminar, according to footage of the event on the institute’s website. Taiwan investigates spy’s claim Beijing spent US$200 million trying to influence presidential election Though Fisher did not name the official, Taiwanese media reported that it was Klinck. While both Taiwanese authorities and the American Institute in Taiwan – Washington’s de facto embassy on the island in the absence of formal ties – declined to comment on Klinck’s visit, Ian Easton, a research fellow for US think tank Project 2049 who attended Hudson Institute’s event, said the trip was a new development in US-Taiwan ties. “We have a deputy assistant secretary of defence in Taiwan making a very high-level visit. This is something new, something positive. We have new talks under way between the US and Taiwan, creating a better habit of cooperation so that we can start to mitigate the common threats we have from the Chinese Communist Party,” Easton said. Klinck’s visit follows US President Donald Trump’s signing of the Taiwan Travel Act and the National Defence Authorisation Act last year to allow high-level official visits and military exchanges. Washington has been concerned about various attempts by Beijing to intimidate the island militarily and diplomatically. In Taipei on Friday, Brent Christensen, the de facto US ambassador, said Washington was aware that the mainland was trying to apply pressure on Taiwan through various means. Mainland China is trying to influence Taiwan presidential election, warns US ‘ambassador’ “We believe malign actors are using disinformation campaigns to make people lose faith in democratic institutions,” Christensen said. Cross-strait relations, which had improved under the previous Taiwanese administration of Ma Ying-jeou, soured after Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle. Beijing has staged a series of military exercises and poached seven allies from Taipei since Tsai came to power.