U.S. Cabinet official postpones trip to Taiwan

FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies at a hearing titled 'Oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency' in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, U.S., May 20, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The cabinet-level head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, has postponed a visit to Taiwan due to “pressing” priorities at home, his agency said on Tuesday, removing a potential source of friction with Beijing.

China, which claims the democratic island as its own, reacted with anger to his planned trip, which would have been the third visit by a senior U.S. official since August.

“Due to pressing domestic priorities at home, Administrator Wheeler’s visit to Taiwan has been postponed,” EPA Spokesman James Hewitt said.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it “was a pity” that the visit was not going ahead, adding that it welcomed future high level trips by U.S. officials.

Taiwan will continue its environmental cooperation with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to facilitate future visits, ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

China reacted with fury when U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar came to Taipei in August, followed by U.S. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September, sending fighter jets near the island each time.

The administration of President Donald Trump, a Republican, has ramped up support for Taiwan, including with new arms sales, alarming China.

Taiwan has moved to shore up ties with the team of Biden, a Democrat, expressing confidence that strong relations with Washington will continue.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting and writing by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; editing by Richard Pullin