TAIPEI (Reuters) – Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, sanctioned by China when he left office at the end of the Trump presidency, arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday and almost immediately referred to it as a country, a highly sensitive red line for Beijing.
Taiwan’s democratically elected government is not formally recognised by the Unites States nor most other countries, which maintain official ties only with China, whose ruling Communist Party views the island as Chinese territory, not a state.
Foreign leaders, even from Western countries that have offered strong support to Taiwan, rarely if ever call Taiwan a country, wary of angering China.
“It is wonderful to be here. I’ve been looking forward to coming to visit with the people of Taiwan for a very long time,” he told reporters in brief remarks upon arrival at the airport.
“I’m so much looking forward to my trip to meet with businesspeople, people from government, people all across your great nation,” he said.
Those words will likely be warmly welcomed in Taiwan.
President Tsai Ing-wen, who will meet Pompeo on Thursday, says Taiwan is an independent state called the Republic of China.
Taiwan vehemently rejects China’s sovereignty claims, saying the People’s Republic of China has never controlled the island and only its people can decide its future.
The Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to the communists.
The Trump administration gave strong backing to Taiwan, including high-profile arms sales and visits of top U.S. officials to Taipei. China, which has already condemned Pompeo’s trip, put sanctions on “lying and cheating” Pompeo and 27 other top Trump-era officials as President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
Tsai will give Pompeo a presidential award, the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon, which according to the presidential office is a “token of virtue.”
Earlier on Wednesday Tsai met with a group of former top U.S. security officials sent by Biden, who offered reassurances the United States stands firmly behind its commitments to Taiwan.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Mark Porter)