Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, arrived in New York to crowds of supporters and protesters on a stopover visit that China has labelled a “provocation”.
Tsai is stopping in the US twice during her 10-day visit to diplomatic allies Guatemala and Belize. Her itinerary has not been disclosed and none of the events were open to the public or media. However videos shared on social media and from the travelling press pack show her arriving at a New York hotel, waving at a crowd of supporters holding US and Taiwan flags.
A larger crowd of protesters also gathered nearby, waving US and Chinese flags and holding signs saying “there is only one China in the world”, “Taiwan independence has no way out, Taiwan independence is a dead end”, and “support China’s reunification and resolutely oppose Taiwan independence”.
One Taiwan supporter took a dig at those protesting, holding a sign saying “Taiwan so awesome, even China can’t stop talking about us”. Another noted the irony that the China supporters were allowed to protest in the US.
Surrounded by a heavy security detail and accompanied by Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, Tsai later attended a dinner with Taiwanese living overseas. Tsai is expected to address an event at the Hudson Institute thinktank where she will be presented with a “global leadership award”.
The two-day New York visit is officially a transit stopover, her seventh in the US since becoming president. But on Wednesday, China’s ministry of foreign affairs rejected the characterisation.
“The trip is not so much a ‘transit’, but an attempt to seek breakthroughs and propagate ‘Taiwan independence’,” said spokesperson Mao Ning. “The issue is not about China overreacting, but the US egregiously conniving at and supporting ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists.”
The stopovers are unofficial, and the US government has said she will not meet anyone from the Biden administration. It has warned Beijing not to use Tsai’s “normal” visit as a pretext for hostile action.
Beijing routinely objects to any international interaction with Taiwan’s government. It claims Taiwan as a Chinese province and has vowed to annex it. Taiwan’s leaders maintain it is a sovereign nation with no need to declare independence, and that its future is for its people to decide.
There are expectations Tsai will meet the US House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, in Los Angeles on her return journey. Beijing has threatened to “fight back” if the meeting goes ahead. McCarthy had been keen to visit Taiwan.
A meeting between the two in the US has been described as an effort to avoid a repeat of last August, when McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, stopped in Taipei and met Tsai. The visit angered Beijing, which staged days of intensive live-fire military drills around Taiwan’s main island in response.
Beijing has warned Tsai not to meet McCarthy, saying it would be considered a provocation, and they would “definitely take measures to resolutely fight back”.
But on Thursday, the director general of Taiwan’s national security bureau told parliament it expected a less hostile reaction to a Tsai-McCarthy meeting on US soil.
“We believe that the actions the Chinese communists might take are unlikely to go as far as being as large as when Pelosi visited last August,” the director general, Tsai Ming-yen said.
“She will be meeting in the United States, so the political complexity is not as high as the speaker coming to Taiwan.”
He echoed comments from defence officials earlier this week, that Taiwan had detected no sign of unusual Chinese military activity or escalation.
Additional research by Chi Hui Lin