NEW YORK (AP) — Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai arrived in New York on Saturday at the start of a sensitive stopover in the United States that China has condemned and Taiwanese officials fear could spark further Chinese military activity on the island. democratically governed.
Lai, the favorite to become Taiwan’s president in January’s elections, officially makes only transit stops in the United States on his way to and from Paraguay for the swearing in of its president next week.
Lai said he had arrived in New York, on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.
“Happy to join the #BigApple, icon of freedom, democracy and opportunity,” Lai posted.
I look forward to seeing friends and attending transit programs in #NewYork.
The China Airlines flight Lai took from Taipei landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport shortly after 8:15 p.m. local time (00:15 GMT), according to flight-tracking app Flightradar24.
Neither Taiwan nor the US have released exact details about their schedule in the US, which both intend to keep quiet, according to officials briefed on the trip.
Laura Rosenberger, president of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a US government-run nonprofit organization that maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan, told X that she would meet Lai in San Francisco.
Taipei and Washington see US stopovers by Taiwanese officials as routine and no reason for China to take “provocative” steps, but Beijing has reacted angrily at what it sees as yet another sign of US support for Taiwan, which it claims as its own. .
China is likely to launch military exercises next week near Taiwan, using Lai’s US stops as a pretext to intimidate voters ahead of next year’s elections and make them “fear war”, Taiwanese officials say.
Lai, speaking to reporters before leaving Taiwan, made only fleeting mention of the American part of his trip, simply noting that he would go to New York first.
Lai’s US stopover will be the 11th by a Taiwanese vice president, according to the State Department, which calls them routine but “private and unofficial.”
Washington has no formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan, but it is its most important international source of weapons, and the island’s disputed status is a constant source of friction with Beijing.
Paraguay is one of the few remaining countries in the world that maintains formal ties with Taiwan.
Lai previously transited the US as vice president of Taiwan, in January 2022 on a trip to Honduras, a then-ally of the island that switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing in early 2023.
Lai said he would take advantage of the visit to Paraguay not only to deepen ties with that country, but also to have “self-confidence” exchanges with other countries and meet with delegations from like-minded partners. He didn’t say who.
This would “enable the international community to understand that Taiwan is a country that adheres to democracy, freedom and human rights, and actively participates in international affairs,” Lai added.
Lai went to Honduras last year for the inauguration of its president and there had a brief but symbolic chat with the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris. The United States has not announced who can go to Paraguay next week.
Three sources told Reuters the Biden administration was keen to keep Lai’s visit low-key so as not to stoke tensions ahead of the Taiwan election and preserve recent momentum in US engagements with top Chinese officials.
That includes the prospect of a visit to the US by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, which could pave the way for a meeting between US President Joe Biden and China’s leader. Xi Jinping this year.
Beijing particularly dislikes Lai, who has described himself in the past as a “hands-on worker for Taiwan’s independence.” Lai has said repeatedly during the election campaign that he is not seeking to change the status quo.
Before leaving, Lai wrote in English on X that he was “excited to meet American friends in transit” and to go to Paraguay, one of 13 countries that maintain formal ties with Taipei.
Lai will return from Paraguay via San Francisco and is due back in Taiwan on Friday, according to the official timetable for the trip released Saturday, which does not mention US legs.
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