In keeping with sources, the US Navy admiral is making an unannounced go to to Taiwan

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Taiwan and US flags are placed for a meeting between US Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei

By Yimou Lee and Phil Stewart

TAIPEI / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A two-star Navy admiral overseeing U.S. military intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region made an unannounced visit to Taiwan on Sunday, two sources told Reuters on a high-level trip that could anger China.

The sources, which include a Taiwanese official familiar with the situation, said the official was Rear Admiral Michael Studeman. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the Navy’s website, Studeman is director of J2, which oversees intelligence, with the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command.

The Pentagon declined to comment, as did Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense. Taiwan’s State Department on Sunday confirmed that a US official had arrived in Taiwan but declined to provide details because the trip was not made public.

China, which claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, reacted with anger when US Health Secretary Alex Azar came to Taipei in August, followed by US Secretary of State Keith Krach in September, who each time sent fighter jets close to the island.

The Trump administration has increased support for Taiwan, including through new arms sales, alarming China.

It was not immediately clear whether Studeman’s visit to Beijing would be viewed as an escalation. Still, he could be one of the most senior U.S. military officers known to have visited Taipei in recent years.

Douglas Paal, a former US Representative in Taiwan who is now with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, “If it’s Indopacom J2 Studeman, I don’t know of any precedent for such a visit.”

However, Randall Schriver, former assistant secretary of defense for Asia during the Trump administration, said Trump’s Pentagon routinely sent tacitly one-star flag officers to Taiwan.

He noted that the United States and Taiwan had a close exchange of messages about the threat posed by the Chinese military.

Bonnie Glaser, a regional security expert at the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said it was not unprecedented for a US flag officer to visit Taipei.

UNMARKED PLANE

Taiwan’s United Daily News released pictures of an unlabeled private jet, which was a US military plane, arriving at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei, and what appeared to be officials waiting at its VIP terminal.

Data on the flight tracking website planefinder.net showed a private flight from Hawaii – home of Indo-Pacific Command headquarters – to Songshan Airport late Sunday afternoon, just before the United Daily News posted the images on its website.

In a brief statement, the Taiwan State Department said there had been frequent interactions with the United States and that “we welcome the US official’s visit”.

“Since this itinerary has not been made public due to the mutual trust between Taiwan and the United States, the State Department has no further explanation or comment,” it added.

In a separate statement, however, Taiwanese media reported that a delegation led by CIA chief Gina Haspel had arrived in Taiwan and that Haspel had no plans to come.

The de facto US embassy in Taipei declined to comment.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is the main international supporter and arms supplier to the democratic island.

Taiwan Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang said last week that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s chief cabinet officer Andrew Wheeler will visit Taiwan. US media said the trip is likely next month.

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