Defiant Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen departs for New York to begin her trip to Central America
Taiwan has every right to ‘connect with the world’, its president Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday as she embarked on a diplomatic mission to Central America, which will include a transit to the United States – and has already been sentenced by China.
Tsai left Taipei on Wednesday for a 10-day trip that will stop in New York and Los Angeles on either side of official visits to Guatemala and Belize.
“External pressure will not prevent our determination to evolve into the international society,” Tsai told reporters before taking off. “We are calm, confident, uncompromising and non-provocative.”
The trip has drawn increased attention following reports that Tsai is meeting with Speaker of the United States House Kevin McCarthy during one of his unofficial stops in the United States.
Taiwan has yet to confirm such a meeting.
McCarthy said this month he would meet Tsai while she was in the United States, although he gave no date.
China opposed the trip ahead of Tsai’s departure, pledging on Wednesday to “resolutely retaliate” if Tsai meets McCarthy – a move Beijing would view as a violation of its sovereignty.
China’s ruling Communist Party claims self-governing island democracy as its own although it has never controlled it and has not ruled out using force to one day take Taiwan.
Washington believes there is “absolutely no reason” for Beijing to use Tsai’s transit as an excuse to carry out “aggressive or coercive activities” targeting Taiwan, a senior US administration official told reporters, although that privately some US officials worry about how Beijing might react.
Beijing has fired several missiles and launched extensive military patrols around the island following a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last August – the first by a lawmaker of her rank in 25 years.
The visit has also put a strain on bilateral relations between the United States and China, even as lawmakers make their routes and decisions about foreign activities independent of the US executive branch.
Tsai’s trip also comes at a sensitive time in already strained US-China relations.
A planned visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing last month – part of a bid by the two sides to stabilize deteriorating relations – was canceled after a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down at the over the United States.
U.S. officials have had multiple communications with Chinese officials in Washington and Beijing in recent weeks to provide them with information about past U.S. transits of Taiwanese presidents, a senior administration official told reporters last week. .
The US official said China’s responses indicate it does not plan to handle this transit as it has done in the past.
“In all previous transits, President Tsai has met with members of Congress as well as state and local officials. She has made public appearances and attended engagements with the Taiwanese diaspora,” the official said. “As in previous years, President Tsai will be greeted by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Institute (AIT) in Taiwan during this transit.”
The AIT is the organization that maintains the unofficial relations of the United States with Taiwan. Tsai transited through the United States six times while she was president, according to US officials.
Due to the unofficial relationship the United States has with Taiwan, Tsai’s stop in the United States does not qualify as an official visit to keep the United States under the long-standing policy of Taiwan. a “One China”.
Under the “One China” policy, the United States recognizes China’s position that Taiwan is part of China, but has never officially recognized Beijing’s claim to the island of 23 million people. ‘residents.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for China’s Office of Taiwan Affairs, Zhu Fenglian, accused Taiwanese authorities of using the visits to “seek support from anti-China forces in the United States”.
A meeting between Tsai and McCarthy would also be “another provocation” that “undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.
“We firmly oppose it and will take steps to resolutely fight back,” Zhu said.
After her stopover in New York, Tsai is scheduled to travel to Guatemala on April 1 and Belize on April 3. She will transit through Los Angeles before returning to Taiwan on April 7, according to the Taiwanese presidential office.
Tsai’s trip also comes as the island democracy seeks to solidify its diplomatic partnerships, the number of which has dwindled in recent years.
They received another blow on Saturday when Honduras officially established diplomatic relations with China and severed them with Taiwan. Beijing does not have diplomatic relations with countries that recognize Taipei.
Only 13 countries now maintain official relations with Taiwan – several Central American and Pacific countries having transferred their recognition to China in recent years.
However, Taiwan maintains de facto, but unofficial, diplomatic relations with many Western countries, including the United States.
During her trip to Taipei last year, Pelosi, a Democrat from California, said the visit was meant to make it “unequivocally” clear that the United States would “not abandon” the democratically-ruled island.
Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has stepped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on the island, including pushing Taipei’s allies to switch allegiance.
These pressures are only expected to intensify in the coming months as Taiwan’s next presidential election approaches in January.
Tsai’s diplomatic tour also coincides with the first visit by a current or former Taiwanese leader to the mainland since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
Former President Ma Ying-jeou, who served as Taiwan’s president between 2008 and 2016, is touring mainland China on a seemingly private trip, but one that comes at a time of tensions over Taiwan’s future. Taiwan are getting worse.
During his tenure as leader, Ma encouraged stronger economic ties with China, but held off Beijing’s reunification efforts.
In comments Tuesday in the eastern city of Nanjing at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Ma said people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait were “ethnic Chinese” and shared the same ancestors.