Taiwan heralds visit by US ambassador to UN as China fumes

International
Kelly Craft

FILE – In this Sept. 21, 2020, file photo, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft speaks during a news conference at the U.S. State Department in Washington. According to the United States Mission to the United Nations, Craft will travel to Taipei Jan. 13-15, 2021, for meetings with senior Taiwanese counterparts and members of the diplomatic community in order to bolster relations and show continued support with the island. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan said Friday it welcomed the visit of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the closing days of the Trump administration, in a move that brought China’s renewed condemnation of Washington.

Kelly Craft will visit Taipei, the island’s capital, on Jan. 13-15, a week before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said Thursday the visit would “reinforce the U.S. government’s strong and ongoing support for Taiwan’s international space.”

A spokesperson for Taiwan’s Presidential Office said Friday they “sincerely welcome” the visit and that final discussions about the trip were still underway.

The trip is a “symbol of the solid friendship between Taiwan and the U.S, and will positively help and deepen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership,” the spokesperson said.

In announcing the trip on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was sending Craft to show “what a free China could achieve.” Taiwan’s official title is the Republic of China, the name of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party government that he moved to Taiwan in 1949 as Mao Zedong’s Communists swept to power on mainland China.

China continues to regard Taiwan as part of its territory to be recovered by force if necessary.

The visit is yet another move from the Trump administration to step up interactions with the island despite their lacking formal diplomatic ties since Washington switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. The U.S. outreach to Taiwan has exacerbated tensions between Washington and Beijing that are already running high over the COVID-19 pandemic, trade, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

Craft was appointed by President Donald Trump to the position in 2019, and is due to be replaced by career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield after Biden takes office.

In defiance of China’s warnings, Congress and the Trump administration have pushed for more visits by sitting government officials, along with arms sales and political support. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited in August, followed the next month by Under Secretary of State Keith Krach.

China stepped up its angry rhetoric and flew fighter jets near the island in a display of force during both visits.

Heightened tensions with China present a diplomatic challenge for Biden, who is expected to maintain many of Trump’s policies toward Beijing while seeking to put relations on a more predictable, less confrontational track.

While Beijing has called for improved relations, it refuses to back down on issues such as Taiwan that it considers to be among its “core interests.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Friday said a “handful of anti-China politicians within the Trump administration, to be clear, such as Pompeo, have been staging a show of madness as their days at the reins are numbered, stopping at nothing to deliberately sabotage China-U.S. relations for selfish political interests.”

“China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests,” Hua told reporters at a daily briefing. “If the U.S. insists on going its own way, it will definitely pay a heavy price for its erroneous actions.”

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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