The Trump administration will leave office on January 20, but not before offering one more parting gift to Taiwan: a visit by the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft.
The announcement was appended to a statement from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the mass arrests in Hong Kong. After condemning the arrests as an outrage and demanding the release of the pro-democracy figures, Pompeo segued to Taiwan:
The United States supports the Hong Kong people and all who yearn for freedom. In that vein, I am pleased to announce the upcoming visit of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft to Taiwan, a reliable partner and vibrant democracy that has flourished despite CCP efforts to undermine its great success. Taiwan shows what a free China could achieve.
Craft’s visit will be from January 13 to 15, meaning the trip will start exactly a week before the Trump administration gives way to President-elect Joe Biden and his team. That will severely curtail any policy implications of the trip.
“During her trip, the Ambassador will reinforce the U.S. government’s strong and ongoing support for Taiwan’s international space, in accord with the U.S. one-China policy that is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-PRC joint communiques, and the Six Assurances to Taiwan,” the U.S. Mission to the U.N. said in a media note.
According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Craft will meet with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and deliver an address at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs. The U.S. media release said Craft’s remarks at the institute will focus “on Taiwan’s impressive contributions to the global community and the importance of Taiwan’s meaningful and expanded participation in international organizations.”
Craft becomes the latest in a string of Trump administration officials to travel to Taiwan. U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar and Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach both visited Taipei in 2020 (in August and September, respectively). Azar’s visit was the highest-ranking of the bunch, a rare trip by a Cabinet-level official to Taiwan (the U.N. ambassador post often does carry Cabinet rank, but the Trump administration downgraded the position before Craft took up the role in 2019).
After Craft’s trip was announced, China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan, issued the expected denunciation. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters that “China firmly opposes any forms of official exchange between the United States and the Taiwan region. This position is consistent and clear.” She added, “China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and security interests. The U.S. side shall pay a heavy price for its erroneous actions.”
However, it’s unlikely China will take concrete actions against the United States, particularly as the Trump administration will be leaving office in less than two weeks. Instead, Beijing’s usual response is to step up pressure on Taiwan. In the wake of Azar and Krach’s visits, the Chinese military began an intimidation campaign that saw a record-number of incursions into Taiwan’s airspace.
This is not Craft’s first involvement in U.S.-Taiwan relations. In September 2020, she met with James K.J. Lee, director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York (the equivalent of a New York consulate for Taiwan). Craft called the meeting “historic,” saying it was the first between a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a top Taiwanese official. She and Lee “discussed different ways that we can best help Taiwan become more engaged within the U.N.,” according to Craft.
“I’m looking to do the right thing by my president, and I feel that he has sought to strengthen and deepen this bilateral relationship with Taiwan and I want to continue that on behalf of the administration,” she told the Associated Press at the time.
Craft added that she looked forward to one day meeting Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen – something that is likely to occur next week. When Krach visited in September, Tsai hosted a banquet for the U.S. delegation.