In New York, Taiwan leader says ties with US ‘closer than ever’

Beijing has condemned Tawain President Tsai Ing-wen’s stop in the US, with a Chinese official pledging to ‘fight back’.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen attends an event at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, US [Yuki Iwamura/The Associated Press]

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has hailed the island’s relations with the United States during a stopover on her way to Central America, a “transit” that has been condemned by Beijing.

During a closed-door speech in New York on Wednesday night, Tsai said the relationship between Washington and Taipei was “closer than ever” and touted “significant progress” in economic and security cooperation, according to a statement from her office.

She hailed Taiwan as a “beacon of democracy in Asia” and said the island would not be isolated despite the “enormous challenges” it faced.

“We have demonstrated a firm will and resolve to defend ourselves, that we are capable of managing risks with calm and composure and that we have the ability to maintain regional peace and stability,” Tsai said.

Among the attendees at the event were New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Laura Rosenberger, chair of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which operates the de facto US embassy in Taiwan.

Tsai is also due to speak at a Hudson Institute think tank event on Thursday, sources told the Reuters news agency, but all events are set to be closed to the press and public.

The stopover comes as Tsai travels to Central America, where she will attempt to shore up support in Guatemala and Belize, part of a shrinking group of countries that recognise Taipei’s sovereignty from Beijing.

She is also scheduled to pass through Los Angeles, California, on her way home next week, where she is rumoured to be meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Tsai’s trip comes days after Honduras established ties with Beijing and ended its recognition of Taiwan, leaving the island with only 13 allies that maintain formal diplomatic ties.

Beijing maintains Taiwan belongs to “one China” and that, as a Chinese province, it has no right to state-to-state ties. Taiwan is where the nationalist Republic of China government fled in 1949, following its defeat by the Chinese Communist Party at the end of the country’s civil war.

Washington has not officially recognised Taiwan since it normalised ties with Beijing in 1979. Still, the US remains an important ally, providing military training and equipment to the island.

In the lead-up to Tsai’s trip through the US, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby sought to downplay the transit’s significance to avoid tensions with China. He billed her trip as “consistent with our longstanding unofficial relationship with Taiwan”.

On Wednesday, Kirby said: “There is no reason — none — for the Chinese to overreact here”.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia, also noted that Tsai had transited through the US six times previously “without incident”.

Still, Beijing has condemned Tsai’s stop in the US. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said on Wednesday that, if Tsai met with McCarthy, China would “definitely take measures to resolutely fight back”.

Xu Xueyuan, the charge d’affaires of China’s embassy to Washington, also told reporters on Wednesday that the US risked “serious confrontation” should its leaders meet with Tsai.

Referencing a visit then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made to Taiwan in 2022, Xu warned against other US politicians following her example and meeting with Tsai.

“The US keeps saying that transit is not a visit and that there are precedents, but we should not use past mistakes as excuses for repeating them today,” she said.

Pelosi’s Taiwan trip last year prompted Beijing to stage several days of military exercises and fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait. She was the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

The anticipated meeting between McCarthy and Tsai in California has been framed as less diplomatically fraught than Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. Still, such a meeting would represent the first time a Taiwanese leader has met with a House Speaker on US soil.

As of Thursday, Taipei said the New York stopover had not triggered any unusual military actions by China.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies