TAIPEI • President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan will visit three of the island's diplomatic allies in the Pacific next week and could stop over in US territory, potentially angering China which has heaped pressure on Taipei internationally, including whittling down its few remaining friends.
Ms Tsai's visit to the tiny Pacific Ocean countries of Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands comes amid heightened tension between Taipei and Beijing, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and considers it merely a province with no right to state-to-state ties.
Last year, China persuaded the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso and El Salvador to forge relations with Beijing, leaving a dwindling number of governments that have formal diplomatic ties with Taipei.
The aim of Ms Tsai's eight-day visit, starting on March 21, is to "deepen ties and friendly relations" with Taiwan's Pacific allies, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Hsu Szu-chien told a news briefing in Taipei yesterday.
Taiwan is still in talks regarding a possible stopover in US territory, he added.
A source told Reuters that the stopover would most likely be in Guam or Hawaii, with the chance of at least one visit to territory in the United States "very high".
Taiwan now has formal ties with just 17 countries, almost all small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, such as Belize and Nauru.
Taipei has accused Beijing of offering generous aid and loan packages to lure its allies away, accusations Beijing has denied.
The Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, simply answered "Ha ha!" last week when asked by reporters how many of Taiwan's allies China would take this year.
Washington maintains a "one China" policy that prevents formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but it is the island's largest weapons supplier and most powerful international backer.
The US ambassador for religious freedom, Mr Sam Brownback, is currently in Taipei, to Beijing's anger.
On Monday evening, the Taiwanese President called a national security meeting during which she urged the administration to counter Chinese President Xi Jinping's "one country, two systems" proposal that Beijing uses to push for "reunification" with Taiwan.
Ms Tsai also called on government officials to come up with measures to "counter" China's renewed efforts to "interfere" and to "absorb" Taiwan's capital and talent.
"The Beijing authorities continue to utilise our open and free system of democracy to interfere with Taiwan's political, economic and social developments, which has become the biggest risk in Taiwan," she said in a statement.