Taiwan official leaves island for US trip amid fears of China backlash

China has already announced it will conduct military drills in the East China Sea

Namita Singh
Saturday 12 August 2023 08:44 BST
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Related: China responds to US-Taiwan relations

Taiwan vice president William Lai is expected to make a stopover in the US later today on his way to the inauguration ceremony of Paraguay’s president, spurring fears of a retaliation from China.

Mr Lai, who is also the front-runner for the island’s presidential elections this January, will stop in New York on 12 August on his way to Paraguay and in San Francisco on 16 August on his way back to Taiwan, his office had announced earlier in the month.

Both Taipei and Washington have attempted to downplay the meeting by calling it routine and suggesting there is no cause for China to react in a “provocative” manner. But Beijing has already responded with anger at what it sees as a further sign of US support for Taiwan, which it claims as a breakaway Chinese province.

On Friday China’s Maritime Safety Administration announced in a notice that it would be conducting military drills in the East China Sea for three days, starting on Saturday. It said no vessels would be allowed to enter the drill area, which is in waters along the coast of its eastern city Ningbo.

Responding to the announcement, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it would monitor the drill as it urged people to remain calm as China attempts to damage “peace and stability”.

Mr Lai took to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, saying he was "excited to meet with US friends in transit" and to be going to Paraguay, one of just 13 countries to maintain formal ties with Taipei.

Laura Rosenberger, chair of the Virginia-based American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a US government-run non-profit that carries out unofficial relations with Taiwan, responded on X that AIT was looking forward to welcoming him "during his transit en route to Paraguay". Both sides have so far not disclosed the exact details of his visit.

Beijing particularly dislikes Mr Lai, who has in the past described himself as a "practical worker for Taiwan independence". The vice president has, however, repeatedly said during the election campaign he does not seek to change the status quo.

Earlier, the vice president’s office had said that the transit arranged for Mr Lai was based on the principles of comfort, safety, convenience and dignity.

"This should not create discomfort for other parties or become an excuse to deepen conflict," deputy foreign minister Alexander Yui had said on 2 August.

Additional reporting by agencies

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