U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft’s Taiwan visit has been canceled, the Department of State announced on Jan. 12 following a previous announcement saying she would spend three days visiting the self-ruled island that Communist China claims is part of its territory.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained that the cancellation was due to work that needed to be done to turn over authority to the incoming Biden administration. Congress confirmed Democratic candidate Joe Biden as U.S. President-elect in the early hours of Jan. 7.
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), lost its UN seat to the communist mainland in 1971, and the United States switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing later in the decade.
Craft, who was slated to visit Taiwan between Jan. 13 and Jan. 15, would have been the third high-ranking U.S. official — after U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Under Secretary of State Keith Krach — to set foot on the island in the last six months. Previously, such senior officials had not visited the island in 40 years.
Craft’s planned Taiwan trip was intended to show “what a free China could achieve.“
On Jan. 9, the top U.S. diplomat also announced the removal of all “self-imposed restrictions” that regulate how American officials interact with Taiwan. These rules had been set up largely to avoid drawing diplomatic tirades and other reactions from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The CCP protested the State Department’s removal of protocol governing US-ROC diplomatic relations and plans to send Kelly Craft, saying that Washington was “playing with fire.” On Jan. 11, Communist Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that America would be “met with resolute responses.”
State-backed media Global Times published an article accusing the move as last-ditch “madness” by the Trump administration. It argued that the Chinese government needs to resolutely oppose the “provocation” and push the incoming Biden administration to cancel the new policy.
Apart from Craft’s canceled Taiwan trip, Pompeo called off his plans to visit Europe after top European officials declined to meet with him, as reported by Reuters on Jan. 12.
The U.S.-ROC relationship goes back to World War II, when American forces aided China against the Japanese invasion. In 1949, the ROC’s rule in mainland China was toppled by communist rebels, who established the People’s Republic of China, while the republican government fled to the island of Taiwan.
U.S. authorities under the Trump administration have taken steps to boost relations with Taipei. In addition to sending high-ranking officials to the island, the United States has increased arms sales to the ROC, pushed for greater Taiwanese participation in the UN, highlighted Taiwan’s democratic system in contrast to the CCP’s authoritarianism, and increased its guarantee of the island’s security.