Taiwan’s Tsai to Transit Through U.S. Amid China Tensions

  • Tsai to stop in U.S. en route to countries in Central America
  • Routine trip has taken on significance after Trump call

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will transit through the U.S. en route to Central America next month, a routine stopover that has taken on added significance after President-elect Donald Trump spoke with her by phone and separately questioned the One-China policy.

Tsai’s office will unveil the details of her U.S. stops at a later date, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Eleanor Wang said in a text message. Her Jan. 7-15 trip announced last week to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador will “boost cooperation and deepen friendship” with Taiwan’s Central American allies, Wang said.

While the ministry had said previously that Tsai wouldn’t transit in New York and won’t meet Trump, the stopover risks further tensions between the U.S. and China ahead of Trump’s inauguration. Trump has already signaled a more antagonistic approach to China as president, with the self-governing island potentially becoming one of the biggest flash points between the two global powers.

“Supporters of Taiwan and critics of China in the U.S. will obviously welcome this move as not bowing to Chinese pressure,” said Ja Ian Chong, an assistant professor with the National University of Singapore who specializes in Asia-Pacific relations. “This could set the tone for an even more contentious and tumultuous U.S.-China relationship.”

Sensitive Time

Ma Ying-jeou, Tsai’s predecessor, transited in Houston and Los Angeles during a March trip to Central America. Still, China on Thursday urged the U.S. to stop Tsai from passing through. America should not send any wrong signals to "Taiwan independence forces,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing in Beijing. She urged "relevant countries" to handle Taiwan issues with caution.

Tsai’s trip comes at a particularly sensitive time after Trump angered Beijing in accepting the protocol-breaking phone call from the Taiwanese president.

The 10-minute conversation on Dec. 2 was the closest a Taiwanese leader has come to getting formal recognition from Washington since the U.S. established ties with the Communist government in Beijing almost four decades ago.

In a later interview with Fox News, Trump said his support for the One-China policy --- which has underpinned U.S. behavior toward Taiwan since the 1970s -- will hinge on cutting a better deal on trade.

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