Senior US official to visit Taiwan in December

Visit by EPA head will be third by a senior US official since August, with China deploying fighter jets in response.

Taiwan flag
EPA head Andrew Wheeler will become the third senior US official to visit Taiwan since August [File: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg]

Andrew Wheeler, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, is to visit Taiwan, the island’s premier said on Friday, in what will be the third visit by a senior US official since August.

Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters interactions between the US and Taiwan had been increasing.

“At the invitation of Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency will come to Taiwan, to have bilateral discussions on international cooperation on environmental protection issues,” Su said, referring to EPA chief Andrew Wheeler.

The trip will “be further beneficial to the relationship between the two countries”, Su added.

Although the United States has formal diplomatic relations with China, it is legally bound to support Taiwan, and the Trump administration has deepened ties with the island, including with sales of weapons and military equipment worth billions of dollars.

In August, US Health Secretary Alex Azar travelled to Taipei, and the following month, it was the turn of  US Under-secretary of State Keith Krach. China, which claims democratically run Taiwan as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to secure its aims, reacted with anger on both occasions, carrying out military drills close to the island.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters News Agency.

The New York Times reported that Wheeler’s three-day trip was scheduled for the week of December 5, and would cost close to $300,000, including a chartered jet.

China pressure

The paper quoted James Hewitt, a spokesman for Wheeler, as saying the agency was still working through the logistics, but that Wheeler had been invited to Taiwan “to collaborate on issues including the Save our Seas initiative and marine litter, air quality, and children’s health”.

Former President Barack Obama’s then-EPA chief Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan in 2014.

China has increased political, economic and military pressure on the self-ruled island since Tsai Ing-wen first became president in 2016, partly as a result of her refusal to acknowledge that the island is part of “one China”.

It has stepped up military activities this year – Taiwan said it has scrambled its planes at double the rate of last year to protect against Chinese incursions, and the defence ministry’s Twitter account shows Chinese aircraft entering the island’s airspace nearly every day this month.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters