Taiwan is making arrangements for former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo to visit the island later this year -a move that is likely to anger Beijing.
Pompeo, known for his strong support of the island during his time as the US secretary of state, had expressed his interest in visiting the island soon after he stepped down in January.
On Monday deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang said “we’re working hard on this” in response to questions in the legislature.
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When further asked whether Pompeo would be able to visit Taiwan this year, Tien said: “Yes.”
The announcement comes at a time of escalating tensions between Taiwan and the mainland, which has stepped up military intimidation against the island by staging war games nearby and sending warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.
This month the aerial incursions have taken place on a daily basis, with more than 20 planes taking part in some sorties, and the Liberty Times in Taipei estimates they have happened on at least 86 days this year. On Monday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said the mainland had sent a record 25 warplanes into the island’s defence zone.
During an interview with Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency last month, Pompeo said he was looking forward to visiting the island. “It would be wonderful to get the chance to travel there someday. I would truly enjoy that. It would be a real treat,” he said.
In a sign of his staunch support for Taiwan, on Monday Pompeo tweeted a photo of him sitting in front of a chessboard and having a bite of dried pineapple given to him by Taiwan’s de facto envoy to Washington Hsiao Bi-khim. “As a proponent of freedom, enjoying some Taiwanese dried pineapple. Checkmate,” he tweeted.
In response, Hsiao tweeted: “Glad that @mikepompeo likes Taiwanese dried pineapples which I have been sharing around town.”
Beijing suspended the import of Taiwan’s pineapples at the start of March on the grounds that they had pest problem, but the move was seen by the island as a new move to ramp up pressure on Taipei and to force the island’s president Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, to accept the “one China principle”.
Pompeo won support from the Taiwanese public but angered Beijing by supporting the island while in office, and has condemned the mainland for suppressing the island after he stepped down.
Chinese state media has responded by describing Pompeo as the worst secretary of state.
Pompeo, who saw Beijing as a threat to the US and the world, lifted decades-old US administrative restrictions on official exchanges with Taiwan in January, just days before he left office.
Meetings with Taiwanese officials are now encouraged in federal buildings and can also take place at Taiwan’s representative office – activities strictly prohibited in the past.
“We started staring at them [the rules] and realised it was just crazy. We had this completely separate set of rules that made no sense,” he told Central News Agency. “It made sense for us to have more conversations, not fewer. To have more open conversations, not more clandestine conversations.”
Beijing, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan and vows to retake the island by force if necessary, has strongly protested against Washington having official contacts with and supplying defensive arms to the island. It has demanded that the US – which switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979 – abide by the “one-China” policy.
But relations between Taiwan and the US under the Trump administration warmed significantly with Washington sending government ministers, including the health secretary Alex Azar, to visit last year.
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