China urges US to block transit by Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen on Guatemala visit

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen speaks during the Bloomberg Taiwan Summit in Taipei, Taiwan, on July 20, 2016.
Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen speaks during the Bloomberg Taiwan Summit in Taipei, Taiwan, on July 20, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG / BILLY H.C. KWOK

BEIJING/GUATEMALA CITY (REUTERS) – China called on the United States on Tuesday (Dec 6) not to let Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen transit there when she visits Guatemala next month, days after President-elect Donald Trump irked Beijing by speaking to Tsai in a break with decades of precedent.

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

Her call with Trump on Friday was the first by a US president-elect or president with a Taiwanese leader since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979.

Tsai is due to visit Guatemala, one of its small band of diplomatic allies, on Jan 11-12, its Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales told Reuters. He gave no details on what President Jimmy Morales and Tsai would discuss.

Taiwan’s Liberty Times, considered close to Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, reported on Monday that she was planning to transit in New York early next month on her way to visit Central American allies Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Taiwan has not formally confirmed Tsai’s trip, but visits to its allies in the region are normally combined with transit stops in the United States and meetings with Taiwan-friendly officials.

Asked about the possibility of a Tsai stopover in the United States, China’s Foreign Ministry said the “one China” principle, which states Taiwan is part of China, was commonly recognised by the international community.

“As for the issue you raise of a ‘transit’ in the United States by the leader of the Taiwan region, her real aim is self-evident,” the ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters.

China hopes the United States “does not allow her transit, and does not send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces,” it added.

Taiwan has been self-governing since 1949 when Nationalist forces fled to the island after defeat by Mao Zedong’s communists in China’s civil war.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office said media reports about a January trip were “excessive speculation”.

In Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Eleanor Wang reiterated on Tuesday that any presidential travel details would be issued at the appropriate time.

El Salvador’s government said it was working with Taiwan on plans for a visit by Tsai in the second week of January, but gave no specific dates.

The government of Nicaragua had no immediate comment. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is set to be sworn in for a third consecutive term on Jan 10, however, so Tsai’s trip to Guatemala would dovetail with that ceremony.

The trip would take place before Trump’s inauguration on Jan 20, and Tsai’s delegation would seek to meet Trump’s team, including his White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the Liberty Times said.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he had no information to announce about whether Tsai would meet US officials if she stopped in transit. 

“What I can say about that is that that kind of transit is based on long-standing US practice, and it’s consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan,” Toner told a regular media briefing.

An adviser to Trump’s transition team said he considered it“very unlikely” that there would be a meeting between Tsai and Trump if she were to transit in New York.

The White House said on Monday it had sought to reassure China after Trump’s phone call with Tsai, which the Obama administration warned could undermine progress in relations with Beijing.

Trump stoked controversy further on Sunday when he used Twitter to complain about Chinese economic and military policy.