Taiwan says US environment protection head Andrew Wheeler to visit

Mr Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks in Washington, US, on May 20, 2020.
Mr Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks in Washington, US, on May 20, 2020.PHOTO: NYTIMES

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - The Cabinet-level head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency will visit Taiwan, the island's premier said on Friday (Nov 20), in what will be the third visit by a senior US official since August.

China, which claims democratically run Taiwan as its own territory, reacted with fury when the US Health Secretary Alex Azar came to Taipei in August, followed by US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September, sending fighter jets near the island each time.

The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan, including with new arms sales, alarming China.

Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters Taiwan-US interactions had been increasing.

"At the invitation of Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency will come to Taiwan, to have bilateral discussions on international cooperation on environmental protection issues," Mr Su said, referring to Mr Andrew Wheeler.

The trip will "be further beneficial to the relationship between the two countries", Mr Su added.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said Mr Wu had extended the invite to Mr Wheeler last year, and that it would announce details at an "appropriate time".

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York Times reported that Mr Wheeler's three-day trip was scheduled for the week of Dec 5.

The paper quoted Mr James Hewitt, a spokesman for Mr Wheeler, as saying the agency was still working through logistics but that Mr Wheeler was invited to Taiwan "to collaborate on issues including the Save our Seas initiative and marine litter, air quality, and children's health".

Former president Barack Obama's then EPA chief Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan in 2014.

While Mr Trump, a Republican, is a popular figure in Taiwan, the government has moved to allay concerns that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, will not be as supportive. 

Taiwanese officials have pointed out that support for Taiwan is bipartisan in the United States, and last week Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington spoke by telephone with Mr Antony Blinken, a long-time confidant of Mr Biden’s.