Taiwan’s president will visit diplomatic allies Guatemala and Belize next week while also making stopovers in the United States, as it aims to shore up ties in Latin America.
Tsai Ing-wen will depart Taiwan on 29 March for the 10-day trip, stopping in New York and Los Angeles while en route to and from the Central American countries, the island’s ministry said on Tuesday.
Belize and Guatemala are two of just 14 countries that officially recognise Taiwan over China, and Tsai’s trip comes after Honduras said earlier this month that it would be switching recognition to Beijing.
China views self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as part of its territory, to be retaken one day – by force if necessary. Under its “One China” principle, no country may maintain official diplomatic relations with both China and Taiwan.
During her trip, President Tsai will meet her Guatemalan counterpart Alejandro Giammattei and Belize’s prime minister Johnny Briceño, the foreign ministry said.
Asked if Tsai would meet US House speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles, deputy foreign minister Alexander Yui said only that her “transit itinerary is being arranged appropriately with the US side”.
McCarthy said earlier this month that he would see Tsai in his home state of California.
On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reiterated his country’s opposition to Tsai meeting with US officials.
“We firmly oppose any form of official exchanges between the US and Taiwan,” he told a press briefing in Beijing. “China has made solemn representations to the US in this regard.”
In Washington, state department spokesman Vedant Patel downplayed the significance of Tsai’s transit and said it was normal for Taiwanese dignitaries to meet members of Congress or hold public events while on US stopovers.
“Transits are taken out of consideration for the safety and comfort and convenience and dignity of the passenger and are consistent with our One China policy, which also remains unchanged,” Patel told reporters.
Washington is one of Taiwan’s key global allies and its largest arms supplier, despite itself switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
In August of last year, a visit by McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan drew condemnation from China, which conducted massive military drills around the island in response.
McCarthy has vowed also to visit Taiwan but the stopover could give him an opportunity to sidestep a potentially explosive trip.
Tsai’s trip comes at a critical time for Taiwan, after the Honduran president, Xiomara Castro, said last week that her country would establish “official relations” with China.
Latin America has been a key diplomatic battleground for China and Taiwan since the two split in 1949 after a civil war.
Honduras’s move – which would result in the severing of longstanding official ties with Taiwan – followed negotiations between it and China on building a hydroelectric dam in the country.
It continues a trend in the region, with Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica all switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in recent years.
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