Tsai transits in Texas, greeted by US officials

Ms Tsai leaving the Omni Houston Hotel during her transit stop. She is scheduled to stay in Houston for a night after a dinner in her honour. Beijing had urged Washington to prevent her from landing in the US.
Ms Tsai leaving the Omni Houston Hotel during her transit stop. She is scheduled to stay in Houston for a night after a dinner in her honour. Beijing had urged Washington to prevent her from landing in the US.PHOTO: REUTERS

Taiwanese President visits museum, factory during stopover en route to Central America

TAIPEI • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has arrived in Houston for a transit stop that has drawn intense international scrutiny, particularly from China.

She was received at the airport by Texas lawmaker Blake Farenthold, American Institute in Taiwan chairman James Moriarty and Taiwan's Representative to the United States Stanley Kao, Central News Agency (CNA) reported yesterday.

Ms Tsai visited the Museum of Fine Arts and a plastic processing plant in which Taiwanese investments have been made, according to CNA.

She is scheduled to stay in Houston for a night after attending a dinner in her honour which was also attended by several US officials - including Mr Farenthold and his fellow lawmakers Al Green and James Moriarty - and about 600 overseas Taiwanese.

Ms Tsai's stopovers in the US are being closely watched for any signs that United States President-elect Donald Trump's team will further engage with Taiwan.

Taiwan's presidential office declined to provide details of her itinerary during her US stays.

"What China cares most about is whether Ms Tsai and Mr Trump will meet," political analyst Liao Da-chi told Agence France-Presse.

Ms Jessica Ditto, a spokesman for Mr Trump's transition team, said in an e-mail on Saturday that neither Mr Trump nor members of his transition team would be meeting Ms Tsai when she makes transit stops in the US.

Beijing has repeatedly urged Washington to prevent Ms Tsai, whom it views with deep suspicion, from landing in the US, to "refrain from sending any wrong signal to the Taiwanese independence forces".

Mr Trump angered China by speaking by telephone to Ms Tsai last month, casting doubt on the incoming administration's commitment to recognising only the Beijing government, and not Taiwan, under a "one China" policy.

Mr Trump also said he would not feel "bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade".

China, for its part, responded by expressing "serious concerns".

The incoming US president has left open the possibility of meeting Ms Tsai if she visits the US after he is sworn in on Jan 20. She will make a stopover in San Francisco on Jan 13, after leaving El Salvador on her way back to Taiwan.

Analysts say Ms Tsai is likely to keep the US stops low-key to avoid further inflaming tensions with China.

Ms Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told Associated Press: "There is nothing to be gained by irritating Beijing."

Since the phone call between Ms Tsai and Mr Trump, China has stepped up military drills near Taiwan, with speculation that its sole aircraft carrier may pass through the Taiwan Strait during or shortly after Ms Tsai's overseas trip.

Speaking to reporters before departing from Taipei on Saturday, Ms Tsai said that the visits to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador would "show the international society that Taiwan is a capable and responsible partner for cooperation".

The four Central American countries are among the dwindling number of states that officially recognise Taiwan.

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

Taiwan is down to 21 allies after the small African nation of Sao Tome and Principe switched recognition to Beijing last month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Tsai transits in Texas, greeted by US officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe