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International relations

Taiwan to welcome head of US environment agency

China furious over 3rd visit by top American official amid escalating tensions

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler will visit Taiwan to address the "Save our Seas" initiative and other issues, according to media reports quoting his spokesperson.   © Reuters

TAIPEI (Reuters) -- The Cabinet-level head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, will visit Taiwan, the island's premier said on Friday, in what will be the third visit by a senior U.S. official since August.

China, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, reacted with fury when the 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 Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan, including with new arms sales, alarming China.

Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters Taiwan-U.S. interactions had been increasing.

"At the invitation of Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will come to Taiwan, to have bilateral discussions on international cooperation on environmental protection issues," Su said.

The trip will "be further beneficial to the relationship between the two countries", Su added.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said Wu had extended the invite to Wheeler last year, and that it would announce details at an "appropriate time".

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York Times reported that Wheeler's three-day trip was scheduled for the week of Dec. 5.

The paper quoted James Hewitt, a spokesman for Wheeler, as saying the agency was still working through logistics but that Wheeler was invited to Taiwan "to collaborate on issues including the Save our Seas initiative and marine litter, air quality, and children's health".

Former President Barack Obama's then-EPA chief Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan in 2014.

While Trump, a Republican, is a popular figure in Taiwan, the government has moved to allay concerns the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, will not be as supportive.

Taiwanese officials have pointed out that support for Taiwan is bipartisan in the United States, and last week Taiwan's de facto ambassador in Washington spoke by telephone with Antony Blinken, a longtime confidant of Biden's.

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