The abrupt cancelation of all State Department travel this week has upended two high-profile trips — a precedent-breaking visit to Taiwan by Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and a final visit to Europe by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Ambassador Craft was due to arrive in Taiwan Wednesday on a three-day visit that included meetings with President Tsai Ing-wen and other senior officials. Chinese officials had demanded the cancelation of the trip, which would have ended Washington’s self-imposed ban on such high-level contacts with the self-governing island which is claimed by Beijing.
Pompeo, meanwhile, had been scheduled to travel to Luxembourg and Brussels, where he planned meet with EU leaders.
All that was abruptly halted Tuesday when State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus announced the department was canceling all official travel this week, citing the transition to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next week.
Despite the official explanation, senior EU officials are suggesting Pompeo’s trip was canceled for other reasons. They say Brussels had communicated behind the scenes that the trip would be awkward and inappropriate, coming so soon after the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
“We were not comfortable with the timing of the trip,” a senior EU official told VOA. He asked for his identity to be withheld for this article. “It would have been awkward even if last week’s violence hadn’t occurred, but with that factored in as well, the optics for the visit would have been wrong for us,” the official added.
On Tuesday, before the State Department announced the trip would be scrapped, the European Commission said that no top EU official would meet Pompeo. EU officials declined to elaborate on record.
Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn had been scheduled to see Pompeo during his stop there. But also ahead of the State Department statement, officials in Grand Duchy said that meeting would not take place.
Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, tweeting hours after the Capitol riot: “The violence against the #Capitol is a heinous attack on the foundations of democracy and the freedom of press. We trust in the strength of the American people and institutions to overcome these times of division & look to President-elect @JoeBiden to take on this task.”
Days ahead of Craft’s scheduled departure, Pompeo had issued a statement easing restrictions on contacts between U.S. diplomatic officials and their Taiwanese counterparts. The visit would have been the first major test of the new policy — and of Beijing’s reaction.
Zhu Fenglian, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters Wednesday that it strongly opposes all official contacts between the United States and Taiwan.
Beijing considers the island as part of its territory even though it has been self-governing since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces were driven off the mainland by Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Washington officially switched formal diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but the Trump administration has angered China as it increasingly embraced Taiwan both diplomatically and militarily since taking office in 2017.
China stepped up military flights into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Taiwan in August and State Department Undersecretary Keith Krach arrived a month later.
Jamie Dettmer contributed to this story.