WASHINGTON (AP) — Taiwan’s president addressed members of New York’s Taiwanese community in a U.S. stopover on her way to Central America, seeking to rally allies of the self-ruled island in the U.S. and elsewhere as tensions rise with China.
Pro-China demonstrators waving the Chinese flag were out on the streets for President Tsai Ing-wen’s first hours in New York on Wednesday. “Tsai Ing-wen big traitor of China,” the slogan on a sign held by one protester declared.
In a speech Wednesday night to fellow Taiwanese in New York, Tsai thanked the United States for its security assistance and urged Taiwanese unity. “The safer Taiwan is, the safer the world will be,” she said. She pledged Taiwan would work with its democratic partners to remain on the path of democracy.
Tsai arrived in New York on Wednesday and was expected to spend Thursday in closed events in the city. While Taiwan is carefully calibrating Tsai’s stops in the United States and forgoing official meetings with senior U.S. leaders in Washington in an effort to limit the scale of China’s response,
China is focusing on an expected meeting next week between Tsai and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. It would be one of the highest-level in-person sessions for a Taiwanese leader on what that government calls “transits” through the United States.
Officials did make not public advance details of Tsai’s schedule for her stops in the United States, underscoring the sensitivity of her travel here.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning restated China’s furious objections to any interactions between Tsai and U.S. officials.
“China firmly opposes any form of official interaction between the U.S. and Taiwan,” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing in Beijing. “China will continue to closely follow the situation and resolutely safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
A senior Chinese diplomat in Washington, embassy charge d’affaires Xu Xueyuan, pointed to the anticipated meeting between Tsai and the U.S. House speaker as one that would have significant repercussions overall and a “serious, serious, serious” impact on U.S.-China relations.
Neither Taiwan nor McCarthy, R-Calif., has publicly confirmed any in-person get-together during Tsai’s travel. Analysts have framed a session between the two outside Washington as possibly less provocative than a trip by McCarthy to Taiwan, which he has said he also intends to do.
Beijing responded to a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last August by launching missiles, deploying warships across the median line of the Taiwan Strait and simulating a blockade of the island. China also temporarily suspended dialogue with the U.S. on climate and other major issues and restricted military-to-military communication with the Pentagon.
The United States broke off official ties with Taiwan in 1979, when it formally established diplomatic relations with China. The United States nonetheless remains the island’s chief source of military hardware and cooperation. U.S. law requires Washington to treat all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern” but does not explicitly say whether the U.S. would commit troops.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hopes any U.S. officials meeting unofficially with the Taiwanese president convey that American support for Taiwan is “strong and unequivocal.”
Tsai has made six previous trips through the U.S. during her presidency, meeting with members of Congress and members of the Taiwanese diaspora. Administration officials are underscoring that her trip is in line with what she and her predecessors have done in the past.
Tsai’s “transit is consistent with our longstanding unofficial relationship with Taiwan and is consistent with the United States’ one-China policy, which remains unchanged,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“The People’s Republic of China should not use this transit as a pretext to step up any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said. “The United States and China have differences when it comes to Taiwan. But we have managed those differences for more than 40 years.”
Tsai told reporters before boarding her plane to the United States that “external pressure will not obstruct our resolution to engage with the world.”
Tsai is expected to meet with the American Institute in Taiwan chair, Laura Rosenberger. AIT is the U.S. government-run nonprofit that carries out unofficial relations with Taiwan.
Tsai’s stops in Central America are expected to shore up Taiwan’s partnerships there, after Honduras this month switched its diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. Tsai accused China of using “dollar diplomacy” to lure away Honduras. Just 13 countries now officially recognize Taiwan.
Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Select Committee on China, said the visit is a chance for Tsai “to convey to the Congress how important the partnership between the U.S. and Taiwan is and what’s necessary to preserve peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have grown as China under President Xi Jinping seeks to expand its regional and global influence. Passage of what the U.S. said was a Chinese spy balloon across the U.S. this winter heightened Americans’ sense of challenge from China. China says it was a research balloon that was blown off course.