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U.S. cancels ambassador’s controversial trip to Taiwan

Kelly Craft, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
Kelly Craft, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was due to begin a three-day visit to Taiwan on Wednesday.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

The State Department has canceled a planned visit to Taiwan by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, which had drawn strong opposition and a warning from China.

The department announced that it was canceling all senior-level overseas travel, including Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s planned trip to Belgium, in a decision to focus on assisting with the transition to the next administration.

Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was due to begin a three-day visit Wednesday, which would have involved meetings with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. Craft had also been scheduled to deliver a speech during her visit to the self-governed island.

The visit would have followed an announcement from Pompeo on Saturday that the U.S. was removing long-standing restrictions on the level and form of contact between U.S. diplomats and their Taiwanese counterparts.

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China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, had warned that the U.S. would pay a “heavy price” in response to the planned visit.

Under the Trump administration and with bipartisan support from Congress, U.S. relations with Taiwan have warmed considerably, with Washington increasing the frequency and quality of weapons sales to the island’s government. Craft had a public lunch in September with Taiwan’s top official in New York, James K.J. Lee, director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, a meeting she called “historic.”

Among Southern Californians with roots in Taiwan, there is strong support for President Trump. Some are single-issue voters who value their homeland’s interests above domestic issues.

She would have been the third high-level U.S. official to visit Taiwan in recent months. In August, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-level Cabinet official to visit since the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

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Taiwan is a sensitive issue for China’s ruling Communist Party. Under the “one China” policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, it maintains unofficial contacts, including a de facto embassy in Taipei, and supplies military equipment for the island’s defense.

In Beijing, the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office declined to say whether the cancellation of Craft’s visit was a positive sign for Sino-U.S. relations.

“Our position is very clear. We resolutely oppose all official exchanges between the U.S. side and the Taiwan area, demand the U.S. immediately cease their wrong approach,” spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian told reporters.

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An expert said the visit would have also presented a dilemma for the Taiwanese government.

“This is also a headache for Taiwan. If you welcome them in a large way, with high norms, then you are expressing that you are very, very close to the Trump administration, and in the eyes of the coming Biden administration, that’s not good for Taiwan,” said Yu-Shan Wu from Academia Sinica, a top research institution on the island.

Wu also noted that current policy moves could be reversed, pointing to the historic meeting between then-Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015. “Back then, although Taiwan and China’s leaders met, this seemed to be a climax, but then the situation was completely reversed,” Wu said.

In 2016, Taiwan elected independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen as president, and China broke off contact with the island’s government shortly thereafter.


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