Tea Leaf Nation

Mrs. McCarthy (Quietly) Goes to Taipei

The White House just sent a cabinet-level official to Taiwan and no one cared.


Sometimes, boring is the best policy. On April 14, the EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited Taipei, reportedly the first trip to the self-governed, China-claimed island by a U.S. cabinet-level official in 14 years. While there, she met with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeu and "underscored the importance of environmental education on issues like global climate change," according to an EPA spokesman.

The Chinese reaction has been surprisingly muted. While Beijing lodged a protest over the visit, and foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China was "resolutely opposed" to the visit, Chinese media could scarcely be bothered to cover it: the press coverage mostly consisted of brief summaries of Hua’s statement; response on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, was also minimal. U.S. media mostly ignored it as well. The only place where it was heavily, and positively, covered was Taiwan.

The trip, it seems, was a big success: the U.S. managed to send a cabinet level official to its ally Taiwan without unduly angering China. It did so in part by sending one whose brief is far removed from sensitive international issues Beijing cares about — and China’s devestating and controversial air pollution seemingly did not come up. That said, EPA spokesperson Tom Reynolds was not too eager to discuss the political undertones of the trip, and deferred most of the questions to the State Department. (A State Department spokesperson, speaking on background, said the visit "does not constitute a change in our one-China policy," and "underscored the importance of environmental education.") Perhaps the only cabinet level trip to Taiwan that could be more boring than an EPA visit is that of a Transport Secretary — who visited in 2000. 

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

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