Reports that a visit to Taiwan by a US Cabinet official was canceled at the last minute have led to speculation that China has a role in US officials’ decision to travel to the nation.
According to Taiwanese media, US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy was scheduled to become the first Cabinet-level visitor from the US to visit Taiwan in 13 years. Academics familiar with the reports were unable to confirm them.
McCarthy, who is currently visiting China, was said to have suddenly canceled her planned visit after it was announced by Taiwanese media.
Asked about the visit, Center for International Security Studies (CSIS) senior adviser for Asia Bonnie Glaser said: “Rumors have a way of developing.”
“We used to send Cabinet-level officials to Taiwan quite frequently. Beijing has gotten used to us not sending cabinet-level officials. I have heard Chinese officials say that it is not something the US should return to,” she said.
Glaser added that she had not been informed about the McCarthy case and did not know if the reports of a canceled visit were accurate. She said the US cooperated with Taiwan on many important issues and that she did not think that Cabinet-level visits were something that Beijing should oppose.
“It’s a practice that should be part of the US-Taiwan relationship,” Glaser said. “I don’t think it should be seen as harmful to Chinese interests.”
CSIS senior vice president for Asia Mike Green said that Cabinet members who did not work on foreign policy issues were “easily frightened” by Chinese opposition.
“Even if there is no formal opposition from the [Chinese] government, it doesn’t take much for Beijing to signal its displeasure and deter a Cabinet member,” he said. “If you are the EPA administrator, you have a long list of very hard issues with China. It basically takes the national security adviser or maybe the secretary of state to call and say, ‘I need you to make this trip.’”
“I don’t know the specifics of this case, but I would hope that it will cause a rethink within the administration. They need to get the signal out that they want to get Cabinet-level visits back on track,” Green said. “I can understand that someone would not want to be the first one to break the ice, but I don’t even know for certain it was canceled, I have just read the reports.”
Washington-based officials with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) refused to comment on Wednesday about the reports.