As China War Threat Continues, Trump EPA Head Cancels Taiwan Trip

United States Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler has called off his scheduled visit to Taiwan next month, the island's foreign minister confirmed Wednesday.

News of the Trump appointee's proposed three-day visit to Taipei in the week of December 5 riled China, which reacted equally threateningly to three trips made by U.S. officials since August.

Taiwan regretted the cancelation of Wheeler's Taiwan visit, which the EPA said was due to a change in the administrator's itinerary, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu told reporters after a committee meeting.

Taipei said it would continue its environmental cooperation with the United States and facilitate any future visits under President-elect Joe Biden.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Wheeler had scheduled two foreign trips before leaving office. They reportedly included a 10-person team for Taiwan in order to discuss marine pollution.

The schedule change was first reported by Bloomberg on Tuesday, when it cited scrutiny over the trip's high costs amid the Trump administration's transition period.

"Due to pressing domestic priorities at home, Administrator Wheeler's visit to Taiwan has been postponed," EPA spokesperson James Hewitt told Bloomberg.

China's foreign ministry and state-run media issued sharp warnings to the Trump administration and the government of Taiwan this week following the reported visit to Taipei by Rear Admiral Michael Studeman on Sunday.

Beijing's People's Liberation Army buzzed warplanes near the democratic island and sent aircraft into Taiwan's air defense identification zone after Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited in August.

It was the highest-level visit by a U.S. cabinet official since Washington and Taipei ended formal diplomatic ties over four decades ago.

In another show of America's support for Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, the Trump administration then sent Undersecretary of State Keith Krach to Taipei in September, again angering the Chinese leadership.

This month, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense began tallying PLA military aircraft incursions into Taipei's airspace on its website. In October, defense minister Yen De-fa said Chinese warplanes had made the most sorties across the Taiwan Strait median line this year since 1990.

One PLA Y-8 ASW aircraft entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on Nov. 25, the flight path as illustrated. #ROCAF deployed patrolling aircraft and air defense missile systems to monitor the activity. #Guard and #Protectourcountry.

— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) November 25, 2020

Taiwan has received unprecedented backing from the United States under Donald Trump, whose administration has sanctioned the sales of defensive weaponry worth billions of dollars.

At a daily press briefing Wednesday, Taiwan's foreign ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou thanked President Trump for elevating U.S.-Taiwan relations to a "historic high."

"Taiwan will continue to be a close and reliable partner of the U.S," she said, while stressing the island's eagerness to work with the incoming Biden administration.

Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's representative to the U.S., phoned Biden's adviser and secretary of state pick Antony Blinken to congratulate him on the former vice president's election win last week.

Spoke to Biden policy advisor @ABlinken to convey Taiwan’s congratulations to the President-elect. Appreciated bipartisan support for US relations with #Taiwan and hope to continue close cooperation with the US in coming years.

— Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (@bikhim) November 15, 2020

Ou said the call highlighted Taipei's continued communication and interaction with the Biden camp.

Analysts in China and Taiwan are expecting a shift in foreign policy approach under Blinken, who also worked under President Barack Obama.

Beijing in particular sees Blinken as offering a window of opportunity to normalize relations with Washington, which nosedived during Trump's ongoing trade war and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's anti-China stance.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler
File photo: Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Getty Images