Tags: China | Trump Administration | andrew wheeler | taiwan | epa | environment | pandemic

Trump EPA Chief Scraps Taiwan Visit After Cost Scrutiny

andrew wheeler looks back over his right shoulder during a congressional hearing
Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Tuesday, 24 November 2020 09:32 PM

Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler is cancelling a planned trip to Taiwan next month that had threatened to stoke anger with Beijing, after concerns were raised about the costs of the travel near the end of the Trump administration.

"Due to pressing domestic priorities at home, Administrator Wheeler's visit to Taiwan has been postponed," EPA spokesperson James Hewitt said Tuesday by email.

Wheeler's trip was originally planned following several high-level visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan in recent months as well as stepped-up arms sales that have angered China.

Taiwan regretted the cancellation, foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a text message Wednesday, adding Taipei would continue to promote future Cabinet-level visits and collaboration on environmental issues with the incoming Biden administration.

The visit had also drawn scrutiny for its potentially high price tag, with a charter flight planned to ferry Wheeler and other EPA staff to the country because of coronavirus concerns. A separate trip by Wheeler to Latin American countries, including possibly Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, is still expected just ahead of Joe Biden's potential inauguration Jan. 20.

Hewitt said the EPA would be asking the agency's inspector general to probe the disclosure of details surrounding Wheeler's Taiwan travel plans, after The New York Times report on the cost concerns.

"It is disturbing that a government official would leak deliberative schedules to the New York Times that could jeopardize both international diplomacy and personal security," Hewitt said.

In August, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to Taiwan since the U.S. broke off ties with Taipei in 1979. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach visited Taiwan a month later.

Both of those visits spurred angry reactions from Beijing, with Taiwan a focal point for spiraling tensions between the U.S. and China. China considers Taiwan part of its territory and resists any recognition of its de facto independence.

Chinese military aircraft crossed over the median line of the Taiwan Strait during the previous visits. And as the U.S. increases arms sales, China has vowed to take "necessary measures" to uphold its sovereignty and security interests, while urging the U.S. to cease military contact with Taiwan.

Wheeler had been invited to Taiwan to collaborate on environmental issues, including air quality and marine litter. And the trip was planned amid bipartisan U.S. efforts to strengthen relations with Taiwan.

In 2014, a trip by then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to Taiwan also sparked anger from Beijing; at the time, it was the first visit by a U.S. Cabinet official in more than a decade.

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Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler is cancelling a planned trip to Taiwan next month that had threatened to stoke anger with Beijing, after concerns were raised about the costs of the travel near the end of the Trump administration.
andrew wheeler, taiwan, epa, environment, pandemic, transition
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2020-32-24
Tuesday, 24 November 2020 09:32 PM
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