China decries plans of ‘separatist’ Taiwanese presidential frontrunner William Lai to stop in US during his trip to Paraguay.
Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai, a frontrunner in the 2024 presidential race, announced plans to stop in the United States as he travels to Paraguay next month, drawing scorn from Chinese authorities.
Lai’s US visit was revealed as part of his plans to attend the August 15 inauguration of Paraguay’s President-elect Santiago Peña, a politician who campaigned on strengthening ties with Taiwan.
Taipei characterised Lai’s US visit as a transit stop, but Chinese officials have expressed outrage, framing the layover as a surreptitious means of generating support for Lai’s “separatist” agenda.
“China firmly opposes any form of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan, resolutely opposes sneaky visits by Taiwan independence separatists in any name or for any reason, and resolutely opposes any form of connivance by the United States to support Taiwan independence separatists,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning.
“China will pay close attention to the development of the situation and take resolute and forceful measures to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Ning noted that the Chinese government has lodged a formal diplomatic complaint with the US over the planned transit stop.
China does not allow countries to have simultaneous diplomatic relations with both Beijing and Taiwan, which it considers a rightful part of its territory.
Since the 1970s, the US has acknowledged the “One China” policy, which identifies Beijing as the sole legal government of China. But while it does not recognise Taiwan’s independence, the US stance falls short of conceding Chinese sovereignty over the island.
Lai’s visit threatens to add further strain to US-China relations, which have been tense in recent months, as the two countries traded accusations over an alleged Chinese spy balloon that crossed North America, as well as military encounters over the South China Sea.
In March, a similar diplomatic spat erupted when Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen passed through the US twice on her way to visit her country’s allies in Central America.
During her return trip, she stopped in California, where she joined Kevin McCarthy — the top Republican in the US House of Representatives — for a closed-door meeting. In response, China blasted the meeting as “wrong” and said its military would be on high alert.
But the US has sought to downplay China’s concerns, pointing out that such transit stops are not uncommon.
“There is no reason for the PRC to use this transit as a pretext for provocative actions,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The US does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but maintains strong unofficial ties and is a key supplier of Taiwanese arms.
Lai’s travel comes at a time when Taiwan’s supporters in Latin America are relatively few, as countries in the region ditch relations with the island in favour of closer ties to China, the world’s second-largest economy.
Last month, Honduras opened an embassy in China after severing ties with Taiwan, citing the economic opportunities that can result from strong relations with Beijing.
Honduras’s decision has left Taiwan with just 13 formally-recognised diplomatic allies. The question of whether to maintain relations with Taiwan was a central foreign policy issue in Paraguay’s recent presidential race, with Peña — the conservative candidate — pushing to keep the status quo.
His centrist rival, Efraín Alegre, had proposed breaking with Taiwan in favour of forging an alliance with China.
Many in Taiwan, a self-governing island with a population of 23 million, fear that Beijing could eventually launch a military effort to bring the island under its control. Paraguay remains Taiwan’s last formal ally in South America.