A brief U.S. stopover by Taiwan’s vice president, Lai Ching-te, has led China’s foreign ministry to denounce him as a “troublemaker” and vowed a forceful response, drawing an emphatic rebuke from Taipei.
Mr. Lai arrived in New York on Aug. 12 en route to Paraguay for the inauguration of its president.
He’s also expected to touch down in San Francisco this week on his return trip from Paraguay, one of the 13 countries that maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tried to isolate the island on the international stage by luring away Taipei’s remaining allies. The island has lost 10 diplomatic allies since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016.
Before leaving for Paraguay, Mr. Lai expressed hopes that his trip could deepen ties with its diplomatic partner.
Mr. Lai, the front-runner in Taiwan’s presidential elections, said he will also use this trip to sit with delegates from “like-minded” countries and have “self-confident exchanges” with world leaders.
These 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,” Mr. Lai told reporters at Taiwan’s Taoyuan airport on Aug. 12. “Moreover, that will let the international community know about all our efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
Shortly after Mr. Lai landed in New York on a scheduled flight from Taipei, China’s foreign ministry issued a statement to denounce the trip.
“China firmly opposes any form of official interaction between the US and the Taiwan region,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement published on the ministry’s website.
It slammed Mr. Lai, the presidential nominee of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, as a separatist and “a troublemaker through and through.”
“China is closely following the developments of the situation and will take resolute and strong measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
A top U.S. official has said that such stopovers by Taiwanese officials are routine, that they’ve happened many times previously, and that there is no reason for Beijing to take “provocative” responses.
“Given the really long distances that people are traveling, these transits really are a way to sort of provide for safety, comfort, convenience and dignity of the traveler,” Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said during a news conference in July.
“On the issue of how the [People’s Republic of China] might or might not react, like I said before, this is a routine occurrence,” said Ms. Oudkirk, the de facto U.S. ambassador in Taiwan
“There is absolutely no reason for the PRC to use the transit as a pretext for any sort of provocative action,” she added.
Nevertheless, the Chinese regime, which views Taiwan as its own territory to be taken by force if necessary, has already stepped up its military pressure against the island nation.
Days before the U.S. stopover by Mr. Lai, Beijing increased the number of warplanes it regularly sends to fly near the island. On Aug. 9, Taiwan’s defense military reported that 33 Chinese military aircraft and six vessels were seen in its surrounding region.
The regime’s Maritime Safety Administration later announced that China will conduct a military exercise in the East China Sea Aug. 12–14.
Additionally, on Aug. 13, the Eastern Theatre Command of the regime’s People’s Liberation Army, which is responsible for the area around Taiwan, posted on its WeChat account a short video of fighter jets practicing dog fights at an undisclosed location. It said its forces had recently been engaged in “high-intensity flight training.”
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council condemned the CCP’s continued military harassment of Taiwan and its military drills in the East China Sea, among other actions, saying it has seriously threatened regional peace.
The CCP “is the internationally recognized troublemaker,” the council said in a statement on Aug. 13.
“Our government firmly defends national sovereignty and security, guards the lines of defense of democracy and freedom, and will never back down, let alone capitulate.”