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Published On: Sat, Jan 7th, 2017

Beijing Watches with Eagle Eyes as Taiwanese President Visits US and Latin America

nsnbc : Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen left for the United States on Saturday. Her nine-day-long trip primarily focuses on visits of Taiwan’s Latin American partners, but the two stopovers in Houston first and in San Francisco on her return trip to Taipai will be watched closely by Beijing.

taiwan_tsai-ing-wen_2016_presidential-pressIt is unlikely that Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen will be meeting US President-elect Donald Trump. However, Beijing (or the people’s Republic of China) is likely to keep a very close eye on Tsai.

Beijing was incensed by President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulatory phone call to Trump after the latter had won the US’ presidential elections. The courtesy call with Trump in December after he won the presidency upended decades of diplomatic precedent in which Washington has effectively ignored Taipei in favor of Beijing.

The People’s Republic of China considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be brought back within its fold. Beijing blasted Trump for violating the “one-China policy”, a policy with a questionable basis in international law.

Taiwan is, like many other regions caught in a legal quagmire posed by two, equally valid principles in international law.  The people of Taiwan would have the right to declare themselves independent if the majority voted for it in a referendum, theoretically. Beijing, for its part, would invoke the equally valid right to China’s territorial integrity.

The UN, in its 1973 declaration of principles, noted that both principles are equally valid as long as they are not exclusive of each other. Taipei would, in other words, first have to convince Beijing that it would be a good idea to allow the people of Taiwan determine their own destiny.

How such dilemmas manifest in terms of Realpolitik can be seen in the cases of the Ukrainian – Russian row over Crimea or the fact that Kurds still have no independent State. In other words, it leads to everything from political posturing over saber rattling to armed conflict. – especially when permanent UN Security Council members are involved.

That said, the hysteria over President Tsai’s two stopovers in the USA are largely “a storm in a cup of water”, and China loves water – a lot of it within its self-declared nine-dashed-line in the South China Sea, for example.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the Americas focuses primarily on bolstering ties with Taiwan’s Latin American allies. “A transit is a transit,” she told reporters last week, when asked whether she would be meeting anyone from Trump’s administration.

However, Beijing has asked Washington to bar Tsai from flying through U.S. airspace. It may be safe to assume that eagle eyes will be following Tsai to check if the U.S. adheres to Beijing’s request to let Beijing interfere in internal U.S. affairs and whether Tsai dares to challenge Beijing’s “one size fits all Chinese” dictates.

Trump himself appeared to have ruled out meeting Tsai this trip, saying it is “a little bit inappropriate” to meet anybody until he takes office January 20. Taiwan’s presidential office and the foreign ministry declined to provide details of Tsai’s itinerary during her U.S. stays.

However, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Javier Hou told a legislative committee last month the ministry was seeking to arrange meetings with members of the U.S. Congress from both parties as per past protocols.

But then again, Tsai’s visit focuses primarily on bolstering ties with Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador – all countries who have had as many experiences with U.S. hegemony as Taiwan has with Beijing’s hegemony. A good cartoonist could probably have a field day depicting fans from one purportedly “anti-imperialist” fan club bashing members of another, purportedly “anti-imperialist” fan club.

And while most of the world will continue to be dumbed down by fan-club-like cartoonish propaganda, Tsai will attend the presidential inauguration in Nicaragua on Tuesday and meet with the heads of states of the other three nations.

It is also an opportunity to interact with leaders of other countries “to show the international community that Taiwan is a competent and responsible partner,” Tsai told reporters Saturday before her departure.

CH/L – nsnbc 07.01.2017

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