• REUTERS

Pentagon’s Top China Official Travels to Taiwan, Sources Say

Reuters file photo
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a news conference with the incoming Taiwan Premier Chen Chien-jen and outgoing Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan January 27, 2023.

TAIPEI, Feb 17 (Reuters) – The Pentagon’s top China official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Chase, has arrived in Taiwan, two sources familiar with matter said on Friday, beginning a visit that could exacerbate tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Both Taiwan’s Defence Ministry and the Pentagon declined to comment on the trip, which was first reported by the Financial Times.

“We don’t have a comment on specific operations.. but I would highlight that our support for, and defense relationship with, Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.

The sources offered no further details on Chase’s travel, and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Speaking earlier, Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said he was “not very certain” about a report that the trip would take place.

Chiu, asked whether Chase would be coming, said “those who are friendly to us” are very welcome,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a parliament session.

“I won’t explain the details,” he said. “I won’t explain until I get formal notification.”

Chase would be the most senior U.S. defense official known to have visited the island since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic widely impacted U.S. government travel.

China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, has repeatedly demanded that foreign officials not visit the democratically governed island.

China and the United States are involved in a bitter dispute over the U.S. military’s shooting down of what it called a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina this month. China says the balloon was for monitoring weather.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated that the government was firmly opposed to official interactions and military ties between the United States and Taiwan.

China staged war games near Taiwan last August to express its anger at a Taipei visit by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Although the United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is the island’s most important arms supplier and the two have a close security relationship.

In 2020, a two-star Navy admiral overseeing U.S. military intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region made an unannounced visit to Taiwan.

Separately, a U.S. bipartisan delegation is heading to Taiwan this weekend to bolster ties between Silicon Valley and Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, according to an announcement by Representative Ro Khanna, a member of the U.S. House China select committee.