Taiwan Vice President, William Lai has left on a seven-day trip to Paraguay and is officially making only transit stops on his way to and from the South American country for the swearing-in of its President.
Lai’s trip includes a transit stop in New York on his way to Paraguay and another in San Francisco on his return.
Prior to departing on his trip, Lai, who is deemed the frontrunner to become Taiwan’s President in elections in January, posted a short message on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Departing soon for #Asuncion to attend [president-elect Santiago Pena’s] inauguration & convey to him & the people of #Paraguay the best wishes of [Taiwan],” the post read. He also stated, “[E]xcited to meet with #US friends in transit.”
In response to Lai’s post, Laura Rosenberger, the Chair of the American Institute in Taiwan noted that the AIT was “looking forward to welcoming VP @chingtelai during his transit en route to Paraguay!”
The American Institute in Taiwan is Washington’s de facto embassy which manages relations with Taipei.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, August 12, 2023, at Taiwan’s main international airport at Taoyuan, Lai made only fleeting mention of the U.S part of his trip, simply noting he was going to New York first.
He disclosed that he would use the Paraguay visit not only to deepen ties with that country but also to have “self-confident” exchanges with other countries and meet with delegations from like-minded partners.
This will “let the international community understand that Taiwan is a country that adheres to democracy, freedom and human rights, and actively participates in international affairs”, Lai added.
Neither Taiwan nor the United States has given exact details about Lai’s U.S schedule, and both are aiming to keep that part low-key, according to officials briefed on the trip.
Lai is to return from Paraguay via San Francisco and is due back in Taiwan on Friday, according to the official schedule for the trip published on Saturday.
The Paraguay part of the trip is also important given China’s increasing efforts to take Taiwan’s remaining allies.
China Criticizes Lai’s Scheduled U.S Stopovers
China has condemned Lai’s transit stops and said the politician advocates for Taiwanese separatism. China views Taiwan as part of its territory, and believes a trip to the US grants Taiwan an aura of legitimacy.
Beijing particularly dislikes Lai, who has in the past described himself as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence.”
Lai has, however, repeatedly said during the election campaign he does not seek to change the status quo.
Taiwan, meanwhile, has defended the visit and said Taiwanese vice presidents have transited in the United States, 11 times before. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jeff Liu said Lai’s stopover is “nothing special.”
“China has no reason to overreact or take the opportunity to escalate the situation,” Liu said in a briefing this week, adding that Lai was making the trip in his capacity as vice president, not as a presidential candidate.
“If China decides … to take provocative actions, it is China, not Taiwan or the United States, that undermines the status quo of peace and stability in the region,” Liu said.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a stopover in the US in April, drawing similar ire from Beijing. China staged three days of military exercises
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to “abide by the One-China principle… and to stop official exchanges between the US and Taiwan.”
As part of its One China policy, the US acknowledges the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China. At the same time, the US informally helps Taiwan and provides aid to the island as aligned with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.