Taipei: A senior U.S. military officer who oversees intelligence gathering for the Indo-Pacific Command made an unannounced visit to Taiwan, Reuters reported, a move that risks further raising tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The visiting official was U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, Reuters said, citing two unidentified sources. In a statement on Sunday, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it welcomed the visit of an “unidentified U.S. official” but declined to give more details because the trip “has not been made public.”
A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment when asked about the trip.
The visit is the latest show of support from the outgoing Trump administration, which has sold Taiwan billions of dollars worth of weapons and sent the highest-level delegation to the self-governing democracy in four decades. Taiwanese officials have also said the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could visit Taipei this year.
“This visit could be more symbolic than functional as other interactions between Taipei and Washington would be frequent enough to promote bilateral cooperation,” said Wu Shang-su, a research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who previously worked at Taiwan’s National Defense University and the island’s Legislative Yuan.
“Beijing will be naturally unhappy, but the intensity of the response may not be strong, since other high U.S. officials have visited and will visit the island,” he added. “If China remains highly furious on all such interactions, it would become routine.”
U.S. President Donald Trump’s willingness to risk angering Beijing with pro-Taiwan policies, symbolic gestures and high-level visits has boosted his popularity among some democracy advocates in Asia. That represents a challenge to President-elect Joe Biden, who some in Taiwan and Hong Kong fear could take a more conciliatory approach to China.
Beijing, which views Taiwan as its territory, has condemned high-level U.S. visits to Taipei and threatened unspecified sanctions in response to U.S. arms sales, which have included F-16 warplanes, Abrams tanks and anti-ship missiles.- Bloomberg