The US state department said on Tuesday that it had called off all of its travel for the final eight days of the Trump administration, including US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft’s planned trip to Taiwan, a sudden change of plans that the department said was needed in order to support the transition to the incoming Biden administration.
The announcement comes amid threats from Beijing over the planned trip to Taipei and furore in Washington and Europe over the Trump administration’s role in inciting last week’s violent attack of the US Capitol building.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch Trump ally, had planned to meet his counterparts in Luxembourg and the EU, but the European diplomats snubbed him after the attack last week, Reuters reported. The trip to Europe was announced less than a day before the cancellation.
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“We are fully committed to the completion of a smooth and orderly transition process to be finalised over the next eight days,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “We are cancelling all planned travel this week, including the Secretary’s trip to Europe.”
A state department spokeswoman confirmed that the order would apply to Craft’s planned trip to Taiwan from January 13 to 15.
Craft’s trip was announced on January 7, a day before the state department said that Pompeo had met with president-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of state nominee, Antony Blinken, “in order facilitate an orderly transition”.
Voice of America’s Chinese service said on Twitter that Bi-khim Hsiao, who heads the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (Tecro) in Washington, also said that Craft’s trip was cancelled.
The Chinese government, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and opposes official visits between the US and Taipei, said after Thursday’s announcement that the US was “playing with fire” by sending Craft there.
The state department did not immediately respond to a query asking if the decision to cancel Craft’s trip was related to China’s threats.
As US-China relations have worsened, the Trump administration has made some moves to bolster its ties with Taipei at the same time, including multiple arms sales and sending a cabinet-level official, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, to the island – the highest-ranking US official to travel there since Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
On Saturday, Pompeo announced that the US government was lifting its internal restrictions on how American officials may interact with their Taiwanese government counterparts. The US and the self-ruled island do not have formal diplomatic relations.
Taiwan’s Hsiao called that rule change “a huge day in our bilateral relationship”, and on Monday, US ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra announced that he had hosted Taiwan’s representative in the country at the US embassy in Amsterdam.
But with over one week left in the Trump administration, and just days after pro-Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol and tried to block Trump’s election loss from being certified, analysts said the Trump administration will still have trouble influencing counterparts around the world.
“I guess that Pompeo was offended by the fact that many European leaders refused to meet with him, so he cancelled all State travel for the remaining days of the administration,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I don‘t think this decision was related to Kraft’s visit to Taiwan in particular,” said Glaser, an author of the report, “Toward a Stronger US-Taiwan Relationship”.
Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, said the internal issues related to the transition to Biden after the US Capitol attack last week.
“My overall impression is that people no longer want to attach their futures to this administration,” she said, adding that the trips might have been difficult to carry out with “low staffing and resignations of high-level appointees”.
“I wish they had come to this conclusion four years ago, but here we are,” said Skylar Mastro, who is also a resident scholar at Washington-based think tank American Enterprise Institute.
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