TAIPEI – Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lee said Thursday that President Tsai Ing-wen will not meet U.S. President-elect Donald Trump when making transit stops in the United States en route to Central America next month.
While Lee declined to reveal details of the upcoming visit, he confirmed that Tsai will visit four countries and transit in two American cities, not including New York.
“We’ve never considered New York as one of the U.S. stops,” Lee said. “Nor will there be any meeting with Mr. Trump.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, has urged Washington to bar Tsai from passing through the United States, calling Tsai’s so-called transit diplomacy “a petty trick” and saying that her “hidden political agenda should be clear to all.”
Tsai irked Beijing by offering congratulations to Trump over the telephone last week.
The phone call was the first direct communication with a Taiwanese leader by a U.S. president or president-elect since Washington severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 as part of its recognition of the People’s Republic of China.
The U.S. State Department has rejected China’s call to block Tsai’s transit stops, saying that the U.S. government would handle transit stops by the leaders of Taiwan based on the longstanding practice of ensuring the safety, comfort, convenience and dignity of the traveler.
The transit stops in the United States bear political significance, as Washington sometimes uses such visits as a reward or punishment for Taiwanese presidents.
Taiwan’s Liberty Times, considered close to Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, reported this week that Tsai was planning to transit in New York en route to Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, with the main purpose of her trip being to attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on Jan. 10, for the third term of his second stint as leader.
Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador are three of a small group of states which have full diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Taiwan has 22 diplomatic allies, with 12 in Latin America and the Caribbean islands, six in the Asia-Pacific region, three in Africa, and one in Europe.
Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales confirmed to Reuters that Tsai will visit Guatemala from Jan. 11 to Jan. 12.
The government of El Salvador has also confirmed that it is working with Taiwan on plans for a visit by Tsai in the second week of January but gave no specific dates.
The Nicaraguan government has offered no comment on Tsai’s planned trip.
Nicaragua is among the island’s diplomatic allies that some have long been suspected of intending to switch allegiance to China.
The suspicion was further heightened after Chinese telecoms billionaire Wang Jing floated the idea in 2012 of building a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua between the Pacific and the Caribbean. Both Wang and China have denied that the Chinese government is involved in this project.
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