TAIPEI / WASHINGTON: A two-star Navy admiral overseeing US military intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region paid an unannounced visit to Taiwan, two sources told Reuters on Sunday on a high-level trip that could upset the China.
The sources, which include a Taiwanese official familiar with the situation, said that official was Rear Admiral Michael Studeman. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the Navy website, Studeman is director of J2, which oversees intelligence, at the U.S. Army’s Indo-Pacific Command.
The Pentagon declined to comment. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Sunday that a US official had arrived in Taiwan, but declined to provide details, saying the trip had not been made public.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own democratically managed territory, reacted with fury when US Health Secretary Alex Azar came to Taipei in August, followed by US Under Secretary of State Keith Krach in September, sending each time fighter planes near the island.
The Trump administration has stepped up support for Taiwan, including with further arms sales, alarming China.
It was not immediately clear whether Studeman’s visit would be seen as escalation by Beijing. Still, he could be one of the most senior US military officers known to have visited Taipei in recent years.
Douglas Paal, former head of the US representative office in Taiwan now part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “If this is Indopacom J2 Studeman, I know of no precedent for such a visit.”
But Randall Schriver, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia under the Trump administration, said Trump’s Pentagon quietly sent One Star Flag officers to Taiwan on a routine basis.
He noted that the United States and Taiwan had close intelligence exchanges on the threat from the Chinese military.
Bonnie Glaser, a regional security expert at the think tank at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it would not be unprecedented for an American flag officer to visit Taipei.
UN MARKED AIRCRAFT
Taiwan’s United Daily News published photos of an unmarked private jet, which it identified as an American military aircraft, arriving at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei, and what appeared to be be officials waiting at his VIP terminal.
Data on the flight tracking website planefinder.net showed a private flight arriving from Hawaii – home to Indo-Pacific Command headquarters – to Songshan Airport on Sunday afternoon, shortly before the United Daily News does not publish the photos on its website.
In a brief statement, the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said there were frequent interactions with the United States and that “we welcome the visit of the US official.”
“But since this route has not been made public, based on mutual trust between Taiwan and the United States, the Foreign Ministry has no further explanation or comment,” he added.
However, he said in a separate statement that Taiwanese media reports that a delegation led by CIA chief Gina Haspel had arrived in Taiwan were false and that Haspel had no plans to come.
The de facto US Embassy in Taipei declined to comment.
The United States, like most countries, does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is the Democratic Island’s largest international supporter and arms supplier.
Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang said last week that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief of staff Andrew Wheeler would be visiting Taiwan. US media have said the trip is likely next month.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by William Maclean, Andrew Heavens and Paul Simao)
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