Taiwan president meets with US politicians in Houston, irks China
By Stephanie Chao/The China Post and Jermyn Chow/The Straits Times
09 January 2017

TAIPEI (The China Post and The Straits Times/ANN) - Taiwan president meets two senior politicians of the Republican Party, sparking opposition from China.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met several US politicians not including Donald Trump during a Houston stopover last weekend on her way to Central America.

The meeting sparked opposition from China, which urged the US to abide by the "one China" policy.

Tsai, who was en route to Central America to visit Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, met Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott during a transit stop on Sunday.

Buzz over her trip began well before she arrived in Honduras, with media speculation rife over who she would meet during her US transit.

Cruz released a statement that he had met with Tsai on Sunday.

"We discussed our mutual opportunity to upgrade the stature of our bilateral relations in a wide-ranging discussion that addressed arms sales, diplomatic exchanges, and economic relations," the statement read.

Cruz defended his decision to meet with Tsai, saying that before meeting with the Taiwanese president, the Houston congressional delegation received a "curious letter" from the Chinese consulate asking members of Congress to uphold the "one China" policy and not to meet with President Tsai.

Cruz wrote, "The People's Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves."

"This is not about the PRC. This is about the US relationship with Taiwan, an ally we are legally bound to defend."

Apart from meeting with Cruz, Tsai also met with Governor of Texas Greg Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and took a call from US Senator John McCain.

When meeting with Abbott, President Tsai reportedly emphasised that Taiwan and Texas had engaged in trade, investment and tourism exchanges for many years.

She emphasised their close ties and the large Taiwanese expatriate community in Texas, with over 50,000 in Houston alone.

China reaction

Asked to comment on the meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: "We are firmly opposed to the Taiwan leader's engagement with US officials under the pretext of transit, and her attempt to undermine China-US relations."

Lu urged the US and relevant parties to "strictly abide" by the "one China" policy and to "appropriately handle the Taiwan issue so as to prevent hurting the big picture of Sino-US relations and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait".

But a newspaper linked to the Chinese Communist Party took a more strident tone, warning in a commentary yesterday that China would "take revenge" if US President- elect Donald Trump reneged on the "one China" policy.

Saying that "there is no room for bargaining", the nationalistic Global Times added: "(But) in case he tears up the 'one China' policy after taking office, the mainland is fully prepared. Beijing would rather break ties with the US if necessary. We would like to see whether US voters will support their president to ruin Sino-US relations and destabilise the entire Asia-Pacific region."

Taiwan's presidential office remained mum about the meetings, saying only that Tsai spoke with "friends" during her stopover.

While it is not unusual for Taiwan's leaders to meet lawmakers during stopovers in the US, Tsai's nine-day trip to Central America is being closely watched by China, which is deeply suspicious of her and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

An unprecedented phone call between Tsai and Trump last month stoked tensions with China. Trump further angered Beijing when he questioned the need for the US to continue the decades-old policy of recognising Taiwan as a part of "one China".

Taiwan is grappling with the fallout. China has imposed limits on the number of Chinese visiting Taiwan and is seeking to reduce the island's presence in international forums. Most recently, West African nation Sao Tome and Principe switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing, further shrinking Taiwan's circle of diplomatic allies to 21, including the four Central American nations Tsai is visiting.

Political analyst Yen Chen-Shen does not expect China to take any punitive action, saying: "It is normal that China protests but it knows that it is not out of the ordinary for US local congressmen to meet Taiwan's leaders. Beijing is just going to wait and see until Mr Trump is in office."

Rumoured Meet with Trump Confidante?

During the transit stop, Tsai did not meet with any members of Trump's team, said National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Tseng Hou-jen to reporters on Tsai's charter flight to Honduras.

In another statement, the Presidential Office denied a Liberty Times' report that said Tsai had lunch with Heritage Foundation founder Edwin Feulner, Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center Director Walter Lohman and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Randall Schriver.

Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang said Tsai had not met them. Asked who Tsai had met for lunch, he said,"On the basis of mutual consensus and out of respect for friends in the US, this is not something that we can further comment upon."

Feulner joined Trump's transition team in August 2016 before Trump was elected president.

In Honduras

After touching down in Honduras, Tsai was received by Honduran Vice President Ricardo Antonio Alvarez Arias at the airport,

The Taiwanese president met Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez's daughter Ivonne Hernandez and Minister of Economic Development Arnaldo Castillo Figueroa, who shared their experiences of studying in Taiwan on scholarships.

Tsai later attended a banquet with Taiwanese expat community representatives, Honduran students who studied in Taiwan on scholarships, as well as ambassadors and ministers.

During the event, she announced that she intended to boost corporate activity with Central American allies.

From this year forward, the government will help Taiwanese enterprises form delegations to travel to Central American allies for observation, inspection and exploration of more collaborative opportunities, she said.

"Taiwan and Honduras are both going through a period of economic transition," Tsai said. "Honduras is currently expanding projects on employment, economy, infrastructure and infrastructure, while Taiwan is pushing for an innovative industry."

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