Taiwan prepared ‘for all moves’ by China while President Tsai is abroad

Taiwan’s defence ministry has contingency plans for any moves by China during Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the US and Central America, deputy defence minister Po Horng-huei has said ahead of Tsai’s departure next week.

China, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, carried out large-scale, live-fire war games around the island last August after a visit to Taipei by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Tsai is visiting diplomatic allies Guatemala and Belize on a trip starting next week, but she will be stopping off in New York and Los Angeles.

While in California she is expected to meet current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the most sensitive leg of the trip, though Taiwan’s presidential office on Tuesday declined to confirm that would take place.

Asked by reporters on the sidelines of a parliament session whether China was likely to stage more drills when Tsai is abroad, Po said the armed forces were prepared.

“When it comes to what the Chinese communists have done in the past, the defence ministry can have a grasp on it, and will consider the worse scenario,” he said.

“During the president’s overseas visit, the defence ministry has contingency plans for all moves” by China, Po added, declining to give details.

The United States has said there is no reason for China to react to Tsai’s trip, saying such transits are routine and have happened many times before.

China, which has condemned Tsai’s planned US stop over, has continued its military activities around Taiwan since August, though on a much-reduced scale.

Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims, saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

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.

During her trip, President Tsai will meet her Guatemalan counterpart Alejandro Giammattei and Belize’s prime minister Johnny Briceño, the foreign ministry said.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson 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 spokesperson 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.

McCarthy has vowed 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.

(Source: The Guardian

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse