A planned transit stop in the USA by Taiwanese top politician William Lai in August is causing new tensions with China. According to Taiwanese information on Monday, Vice President Lai plans to travel to the inauguration of Paraguay’s President Santiago Pena in August “to emphasize the importance of Taiwan’s diplomatic relations with Paraguay” – and to make a stopover in the United States on his trip to the capital Asuncion.
Taiwanese politicians regularly use US stopovers when traveling abroad to meet with key US officials. China has repeatedly sharply criticized the short stays in the USA, as it regards Taiwan as a breakaway province from China. Taiwan’s status is one of the main points of contention between the US and China.
US stopovers regularly create tension
A protest came from Beijing immediately: “China is against any form of toleration and support for the separatist forces for Taiwan’s independence,” said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Tah-ray Yui told journalists that the stopovers should ensure “comfort, convenience, safety and dignity.”
Previous stopovers by Taiwanese politicians have repeatedly raised tensions with China. In April, Beijing staged a three-day military exercise simulating a blockade of the island after US House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
Lai wants to be Taiwan’s next president
Lai’s planned visit to the US has also been criticized because he is running as a candidate for the presidency in 2024 and presidential candidates have traditionally discussed their candidacy with US officials before an election.
The US State Department announced that US transit was in line with previous practice. China should not use this as an excuse to increase pressure on Taiwan. “We have told Beijing that there is no reason for them to overreact to this transit or use it as an excuse to interfere in Taiwan’s elections.” According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there have been ten stopovers by Taiwanese vice presidents in the United States in the past 20 years, all of which have passed without incident. Lai was already passing through the USA in 2021.
China announces possible measures
Lai is extremely unpopular with the Beijing leadership for his support for Taiwan independence. The island is “a sovereign state and no longer has to declare its independence,” Lai said in January. Lai is currently ahead in most polls.
Further details about the Taiwanese politicians’ visit to the US will be announced shortly before the visit. China has already announced possible consequences. The government will “closely monitor developments and take resolute and vigorous measures to protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning.
Taiwan is increasingly isolated internationally by China
The reason for Lai’s trip is the inauguration of the President of Paraguay, Santiago Pena. Paraguay is one of only 13 countries that still have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Pena already announced at a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in the Taiwanese capital Taipei that he would stick to the partnership with Taiwan. “We will not compromise on values and ideals,” says Pena.
China regards the democratically-run island as part of the People’s Republic. China’s one-China doctrine is turning more and more countries away from Taiwan. Accordingly, countries that want to maintain diplomatic relations with China are not allowed to have any contacts with Taiwan. The island is thus internationally isolated by China. China recently succeeded in getting Honduras to turn its back on Taiwan.
Increased military pressure on Taiwan
In the past three years, China has increased its military pressure on Taiwan. According to Taiwan, eight Chinese military planes crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait last week. The road is considered an unofficial border in the conflict. Around 8 a.m. local time on Tuesday morning, 24 Chinese aircraft, including fighter jets and bombers, were spotted near Taiwan, as well as four Chinese warships, the Taiwan Defense Ministry said.
mwn/pg (afp, ap, rtr)