Taiwan president Tsai ignores China's threats over her US trip

Wednesday March 29 2023
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves as she arrives at the boarding gate of Taoyuan international airport. Tsai on March 29, 2023 said Taipei would not be threatened with China on engaging with the world in reference to her forthcoming US transit. PHOTO | SAM YEH | AFP


External pressure will not stop Taiwan engaging with the world, President Tsai Ing-Wen said on Wednesday as she left for the United States and hitting a defiant note after China threatened retaliation if she met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

China which claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, has repeatedly warned US officials not to meet Tsai and viewing it as support for the island's desire to be seen as a separate country.

Taiwan's armed forces have said they are keeping watch for any Chinese moves when Tsai is abroad. China staged war games around Taiwan last August when former US house speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.


Former US speaker Nancy Pelosi. PHOTO | AFP

Tsai is going to Guatemala and Belize, transiting through New York first and Los Angeles on the way back. While not officially confirmed, she is expected to meet McCarthy while in California.

"External pressure will not hinder our determination to go to the world," she said at Taiwan's main international airport at Taoyuan.


"We are calm and confident. We will neither yield nor provoke. Taiwan will firmly walk on the road of freedom as well as democracy and go into the world. Although this road is rough, Taiwan is not alone," added Tsai, who is due to arrive in New York early Wednesday afternoon.

China opposes the transit

Speaking in Beijing shortly before Tsai left, China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said Tsai's "transits" of the US were not only just her waiting at the airport or hotel but also for her to meet US officials.

"If she has contact with US House Speaker McCarthy, it will be another provocation that seriously violates the One-China principle, harms sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as destroys peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," she said.

"We firmly oppose this and will definitely take measures to resolutely fight back," Zhu added.

Tsai's transits will come at a time when US relations with China are at what some analysts see as their worst level since Washington normalized ties with Beijing in 1979 and switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei.

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Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial issue and a major bone of contention with Washington which like most countries, maintains only unofficial ties with Taipei. However, the US government is required by their law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

The US says such transits by Taiwanese presidents are routine and that China should not use Tsai's trip to take any aggressive moves against Taiwan. Senior US officials said ahead of Tsai's departure that their country sees no reason for China to overreact to the planned transits this week and next month by Taiwan's president.

Chinese military

A Chinese military helicopter flying past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan. PHOTO | AFP

A senior US official further said that in Tsai’s previous transits, she had engaged in a range of activities including meetings with members of congress, the Taiwanese diaspora and other groups.

"So, there's absolutely no reason for Beijing to use this upcoming transit as an excuse or a pretext to carry out coercive activities aimed at Taiwan," the official said.

Taiwanese presidents routinely pass through the US while visiting diplomatic allies in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Although not official visits, they are often used by both sides for high-level meetings.

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China’s diplomatic victory

Taiwan's government rejects China's sovereignty claims and while Tsai has repeatedly offered talks with Beijing, she has also said only Taiwan's people can decide their future.

Tsai's trip has unnerved security agencies in Taiwan, who worry that China could launch a series of influence campaigns including spreading misinformation on social media platforms to sway public perceptions of Tsai's US transit, according to an internal memo by a Taiwan security agency (a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters).

The note said China had used large-scale influence campaigns including cyber-attacks against Taiwan during Pelosi's visit last year, and Taiwan authorities expected Beijing to deepen its "cognitive operations" in the coming days.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China claimed another diplomatic victory over Taiwan on Sunday when one-time loyal Taiwan ally Honduras switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing. Only 13 countries now maintain formal ties with Taiwan.

China says that both it and Taiwan belong to "one China" and that as a Chinese province, the island has no right to any sort of state-to-state ties. Taiwan strongly disputes that view.