Top US official makes rare stop in Taiwan

USAID chief Rajiv Shah on Thursday became the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan since 2006.

Updated: Dec 01, 2011, 21:48 PM IST

Taipei: USAID chief Rajiv Shah on Thursday became the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan since 2006, delighting the island`s government but possibly rankling China.

"We`re pleased to see the visit. As a matter of fact, we`ve been calling for more exchange of visits by ranking government officials from the two sides," Taiwan`s foreign ministry spokesman James Chang told a news agency as Shah arrived on a two-day trip.

Shah is scheduled to meet President Ma Ying-jeou tomorrow, according to a statement released by the American Institute in Taiwan, the defacto US embassy in Taipei.

"As USAID marks the 50th anniversary... Shah is visiting Taiwan to celebrate the historic relationship between USAID and Taiwan and Taiwan`s remarkable transformation into a thriving and democratic society," it said.

Shah is also scheduled to open tomorrow the "American Footsteps in Taiwan", an exhibition which it said "highlights the friendship between the people of the United States and Taiwan".

The trip by Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), could ruffle feathers in Beijing which routinely opposes any activity that
raises Taiwan`s diplomatic profile.

However, Beijing had not formally protested to Washington in 2006 when the then US deputy trade representative Karan Bhatia visited Taipei.

The US was the major aid donor to Taiwan in the 1950s through 1960s after the Kuomintang troops were defeated by the Chinese communist forces in 1949 at the end of a civil war and
fled to the island.

Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but has since remained the leading arms supplier to the island.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since 2008 when Ma of the China-friendly Kuomintang came to power on promises of beefing up trade links and allowing more
Chinese tourists to visit.