Taiwan president heads to US as Beijing watches

By AFP   January 7, 2017 | 10:33 pm GMT+7
Taiwan president heads to US as Beijing watches
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (L) speaks departing from Taoyuan airport on January 7, 2017. Tsai Ing-wen left for the United States on her way to Central America, a trip that will be closely watched by Beijing, incensed by her congratulatory call to Donald Trump. Photo by AFP/Sam Yeh

But Trump himself appeared to have ruled out meeting Taiwan's president.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen left for the United States Saturday on her way to Central America, a trip that will be scrutinized by China, incensed by her congratulatory call to Donald Trump.

While the focus of the nine-day trip is to bolster relations with Taiwan's Central American allies, Tsai's U.S. stopovers will be closely watched amid speculation she may make contact with the president-elect and his team.

She is to transit in Houston this weekend and return to Taipei via San Francisco next weekend.

The call with Trump in December after he won the presidency upended decades of diplomatic precedent in which Washington has effectively ignored Taipei in favor of Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be brought back within its fold.

Beijing has asked Washington to bar Tsai from flying through U.S. airspace.

"A transit is a transit," the Taiwanese leader told reporters last week, when asked whether she would be meeting anyone from Trump's administration.

Seeking to meet Congress members

Trump himself appeared to have ruled out meeting Tsai this trip, saying it is "a little bit inappropriate" to meet anybody until he takes office January 20.

Taiwan's presidential office and the foreign ministry declined to provide details of Tsai's itinerary during her U.S. stays.

Deputy foreign minister Javier Hou told a legislative committee last month the ministry was seeking to arrange meetings with members of the U.S. Congress from both parties as per past protocols, according to the Central News Agency.

Tsai will visit Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

She will attend the presidential inauguration in Nicaragua on Tuesday and meet with the heads of states of the other three nations.

It is also an opportunity to interact with leaders of other countries "to show the international community that Taiwan is a competent and responsible partner," Tsai told reporters Saturday before her departure.

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