Taiwan courts Central America after US visit angers China

By Reuters   January 9, 2017 | 05:43 pm PT
Taiwan courts Central America after US visit angers China
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province ineligible for state-to-state relations.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen praised Honduras for its loyalty on Monday at the start of a trip to four Central American nations aimed at strengthening ties, days after she met U.S. lawmakers in Texas on a visit that angered China.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott met with the president of Taiwan on Sunday during a stopover in Houston that was sure to pique Chinese leaders already upset by her conversation with President-elect Donald Trump.

It is not unusual for U.S. lawmakers to meet with Taiwanese leaders when they pass through the country, but tensions are high this winter after Trump, who like Cruz and Abbott is a Republican, spoke to Tsai Ing-wen last month.

The telephone conversation broke with decades of precedent and cast doubt on his incoming administration's commitment to Beijing's "one China" policy.

Cruz, who represents Texas, said some members of Congress had received a letter from the Chinese consulate asking them not to meet with Tsai during her stopovers.

"The People's Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves," Cruz said in a statement. "This is not about the PRC. This is about the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, an ally we are legally bound to defend."

China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, who it thinks wants to push for the formal independence of Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing regards as a renegade province, ineligible for state-to-state relations.

The United States, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, has acknowledged the Chinese position that there is only "one China" and that Taiwan is part of it."

Tsai scheduled stopovers in San Francisco and Houston on her way to visit allies in Central America, including Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Beijing had urged the United States not to let her into the country.

Cruz said he and the Taiwanese leader discussed upgrading bilateral relations and furthering economic cooperation between their countries, including increased access to Taiwanese markets that will benefit Texas ranchers, farmers and small businesses.

Abbott said in a Twitter post that he also met with Tsai on Sunday and that they discussed "expanding trade and economic opportunities."

'Has no bearing on US policy'

The meeting was initiated by Cruz and was not encouraged by the Obama administration, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"The meeting doesn't have any bearing whatsoever on our continued pursuit of a one-China policy that benefits the United States and Taiwan," Earnest said at a news briefing. 

Tsai started her trip to four Central American nations on Monday.

Tsai emphasized Taiwan's economic cooperation with Honduras, one of the world's poorest countries, and said President Juan Orlando Hernandez, whom she met in Tegucigalpa, had been the first to congratulate her on her 2016 election victory.

"Despite the international situation, and the constant challenges that affect us as a country ... the firm brotherhood and solidarity (of Honduras and Taiwan) is unalterable," Tsai said in a statement to reporters, speaking via an interpreter.

Tsai said Taiwan and Honduras could serve as entry portals for the markets of Asia and Latina America. She did not mention China or the United States, and did not take questions.

Tsai later flew to Nicaragua, and is also due to visit El Salvador and Guatemala this week. Her stopover in Texas at the weekend caused an angry response from Chinese state media.


Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (L) shakes hands with her Honduran counterpart Juan Orlando Hernandez during a visit to the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 9, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Jorge Cabrera

China had asked the United States not to allow Tsai to enter or have formal government meetings under the one-China policy.

Beijing considers self-governing Taiwan a renegade province ineligible for state-to-state relations.

Since the mid-1990s, almost a third of Taiwan's allies have broken ties. It now has formal relations with just 21, mostly smaller and poorer nations in Latin America and the Pacific. 

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