TAIWANESE PRESIDENT TSAI ING-WEN‘s stop-overs in the United States en route to and from two of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic partners, Guatemala and Belize, are not her first. She lasted visited the United States in a similar way in 2019.
The format allows Washington to claim that visits by senior Taiwanese leaders are ‘transits’, not official visits. This pretext has become increasingly endangered as Beijing has peeled away Taiwan’s Caribbean and Central American allies. Last month, Taiwan lost Honduras when Tegucigalpa switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing.
This trip has inevitably gained the ire of Beijing, especially Tsai’s forthcoming meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, just outside Los Angeles, with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and some 20 other US lawmakers, now confirmed for April 5, which it described as another provocation against which it would hit back.
After McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August, China launched its most extensive live-fire military exercises encircling Taiwan. Taiwan officials say that more than a dozen Chinese aircraft have crossed the midway mark of the Taiwan Strait since the start of Tsai’s trip.
McCarthy had considered making a similar trip to Pelosi’s. However, a California meeting was decided on as a less inflammatory alternative, with bilateral relations having sunk to a new low following the downing of alleged Chinese spy balloons in February.
However, Xu Xueyuan, charge d’affaires at the Washington embassy, said the United States risked ‘serious confrontation’ regardless of where US officials meet Taiwanese leaders.
In next year’s elections, Taiwan’s voters will have to choose between holding fast to the ties to the United States that Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party has promoted or re-embracing the Beijing-friendly stance of the Kuomintang, the party of former President Ma Ying-jeou who recently made an unprecedented 12-day trip to the mainland, ostensibly to visit his ancestral family hometown, but during which he unofficially met Chinese officials.