TAIWANESE President Tsai Ing-wen has set off to visit Central American allies, saying she wants to bolster Taiwan’s presence on the international stage on a trip that includes transits in the U.S. that look set to raise China’s ire.
Speaking to reporters before boarding her flight Saturday, Tsai said the visits would bolster relations with Taipei’s allies and “show the international society that Taiwan is a capable and responsible partner for cooperation.”
She will transit through Houston and San Francisco, stops that will likely irritate Beijing, which has urged Washington to prevent the self-ruled island’s leader from stopping in the U.S.
It was not clear if Tsai would meet President-elect Donald Trump or anyone from his transition team, though analysts say she is likely to meet with U.S. politicians.
Early last month, China called on U.S. officials not to let Tsai pass through the United States en route to Guatemala, days after Trump irked Beijing by speaking to Tsai in a break with decades of precedent.
The U.S. State Department appeared to reject the call, saying that such transits were based on “long-standing U.S. practice, consistent with the unofficial nature of (U.S.) relations with Taiwan.”
China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, whom it thinks wants to push for the formal independence of Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing regards as a renegade province.
Her call with Trump was the first between a U.S. president-elect or president and a Taiwanese leader since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979.
An adviser to Trump’s transition team said he considered it “very unlikely” there would be a meeting between Tsai and Trump if she were to go through New York.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the one-China principle, which states Taiwan is part of China, was commonly recognised by the international community and that Tsai’s real aim was “self-evident.”
China hopes the United States “does not allow her transit, and does not send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces,” the ministry said last month.
U.S. State Department spokesman said transits were “based on long-standing U.S. practice, consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan.”
Additional reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters