Taiwan hails first US Cabinet-level visit for 14 years

Gina McCarthy (right), the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency of United States, is greeted by staffs of the National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei on April 14, 2014. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Monday met Gina McCarthy, the
Gina McCarthy (right), the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency of United States, is greeted by staffs of the National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei on April 14, 2014. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Monday met Gina McCarthy, the first US Cabinet-level official to visit the island in 14 years, and hailed her trip as important for ties with Washington. -- PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Monday met Gina McCarthy, the first US Cabinet-level official to visit the island in 14 years, and hailed her trip as important for ties with Washington.

"This is the first time since 2000 for a Cabinet-level official to visit Taiwan from the United States. It is of great significance for bilateral ties," Ma said while meeting McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979.

It remains the leading arms supplier to the island, but has been cautious in holding official contacts with it.

China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary - following their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Taipei-Washington ties were at their worst when President Chen Shui-bian of the China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party was in power for the eight years to 2008.

But relations have been on an upswing since Ma of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power that year.

Ma has referred to the former government as "troublemakers" and has repeatedly assured Washington of "no surprises" in his diplomacy, which is focused on securing a diplomatic truce with Beijing.

"I've striven to restore mutual trust since 2008, and this visit manifests our years-long efforts," Ma said, according to a statement by the presidential office.

But both Taipei and Washington have kept Mc Carthy's visit low-profile.

China had a muted reaction when Rajiv Shah, the head of the US Agency for International Development, visited Taiwan in 2011. However Shah technically does not have cabinet status.

McCarthy visited an elementary school outside Taipei featuring a low-carbon classroom and a garden with an ecological area, and gave a speech at National Taiwan University on environmental cooperation between Taiwan and the United States.