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UPDATE 1-Ahead of Biden transition, U.S. cancels U.N. envoy's trip to Taiwan

13 Jan 2021 / 04:32 H.

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    By Michelle Nichols and Humeyra Pamuk

    NEW YORK/WASHINGTON Jan 12 (Reuters) - A cancellation of all travel by the U.S. State Department this week includes a planned visit to Taiwan by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, a State Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

    Craft had been due to visit Taiwan from Wednesday to Friday, prompting China to warn that Washington was playing with fire. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that all travel this week had been cancelled, including a trip by him to Europe, as part of the transition to the incoming Biden administration.

    But European diplomats and other people familiar with the matter said Luxembourg's foreign minister and top European Union officials had declined to meet with him during his planned European trip this week.

    Craft's Taiwan trip appeared to be another part of an effort by Pompeo and President Donald Trump's Republican administration to lock in a tough approach to China before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

    China had said it was firmly opposed to the visit. China's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the cancellation.

    Beijing, which claims the self-governed island as its own territory, has been angered by stepped-up support for Taiwan from the Trump administration, including trips to Taipei by top U.S. officials, further straining Sino-U.S. ties. Pompeo on Saturday said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts.

    Chinese fighter jets approached the island in August and September during the last two visits - by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach, respectively.

    While the United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is the island's strongest international backer and arms supplier, being obliged to help provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Humeyra Pamuk Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

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