Pentagon's top China official travels to Taiwan, sources say

Visit comes as tension grows between Washington and Beijing over alleged spy balloons

This picture taken on February 25, 2013 shows a haze of pollution sitting over the city's skyline in Taipei. AFP PHOTO / Mandy CHENG
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The Pentagon's top China official has arrived in Taiwan, two sources familiar with matter said on Friday, beginning a visit that could exacerbate tension between Beijing and Washington.

Both Taiwan's Defence Ministry and the Pentagon declined to comment on the trip made by Michael Chase, deputy assistant secretary of defence, which was first reported by The Financial Times.

“We don't have a comment on specific operations … but I would highlight that our support for, and defence relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People's Republic of China,” a Pentagon representative said.

The sources offered no further details on Mr Chase's travel, and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Speaking earlier, Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said he was “not very certain” about a report that the trip would take place.

“Those who are friendly to us are very welcome,” Mr Chiu told reporters on the sidelines of a parliament session after being asked about Mr Chase's trip.

“I won't explain the details,” he said. “I won't explain until I get formal notification.”

Mr Chase would be the most senior US defence official known to have visited the island since 2019, as the Covid-19 pandemic widely affected US government travel.

China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, has repeatedly demanded that foreign officials not visit the democratically governed island.

Beijing and Washington are currently involved in a bitter dispute over the US military's shooting down of what it called a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina this month. China says the balloon was for monitoring weather.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reiterated that the government was firmly opposed to official interactions and military ties between the US and Taiwan.

China staged war games near Taiwan last August to express its anger over a visit to Taipei by Nancy Pelosi, the US House speaker at the time.

Although the US, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is the island's most important arms supplier and the two have a close security relationship.

In 2020, a two-star admiral overseeing US military intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region made an unannounced visit to Taiwan.

Updated: February 17, 2023, 11:49 PM