By Michelle Nichols and Ben Blanchard
NEW YORK/TAIPEI (Reuters) – The United States stands by Taiwan and always will, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said following a call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who told her the island would continue to seek access to U.N. meetings.
Craft had planned to visit Taipei this week, in the teeth of strong objections from China which views the island as its own territory.
But the trip was cancelled by the State Department as part of a bar on all travel ahead of the transition to the incoming Biden administration.
Craft, who is due to leave the role when Joe Biden assumes the presidency next week, wrote on Twitter that it was a "great privilege" to speak to Tsai.
"We discussed the many ways Taiwan is a model for the world, as demonstrated by its success in fighting COVID-19 and all that Taiwan has to offer in the fields of health, technology and cutting-edge science," she said.
"Unfortunately, Taiwan is unable to share those successes in UN venues, including the World Health Assembly, as a result of PRC obstruction," Craft added, referring to the People's Republic of China.
"I made clear to President Tsai that the U.S. stands with Taiwan and always will, as friends and partners, standing shoulder to shoulder as pillars of democracy."
Craft's visit would have been highly symbolic as Taiwan is not a U.N. member due to China's objections. Beijing says only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the world stage, something Taipei's democratically elected government rejects.
Tsai told Craft that Taiwan would keep pushing for access to the United Nations and U.N.-related meetings.
"We will continue to show that Taiwan is a force for good and vital partner to the world and we are able and determined to contribute to the international community," Tsai said on Thursday during the video conference, according to clips provided by her office.
"Moving forward we will keep pushing for our participation in the United Nations and U.N.-affiliated meetings and events and I hope that the United States will continue to support our efforts."
The Taiwan presidential office added that David Feith, Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs was also on the call.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the United Nations was made up of sovereign states and Taiwan had unfettered access to the World Health Oganization, which Taipei's government disputes.
"Certain U.S. politicians will pay a heavy price for their wrong words and deeds," Zhao told reporters.
China has been angered by stepped-up support for Taiwan from the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump, including trips to Taipei by top U.S. officials, further straining Sino-U.S. ties.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts.
Craft's Taiwan trip appeared to be another part of an effort by Pompeo and Trump's Republican administration to lock in a tough approach to China before Democratic President-elect Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
(Reporting by Michelle Nicols and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Kim Coghill, Simon Cameron-Moore and Michael Perry)