In NY, Taiwan’s deputy leader vows no retreat

Amid protests from Beijing, State Department official says there’s no need to ‘over torque’ the US visit.
By Kitty Wang and Alex Willemyns for RFA
New York and Washington
In NY, Taiwan’s deputy leader vows no retreat Taiwan's Vice President Lai Ching-te waves while attending a luncheon in New York City in this picture released Monday, Aug. 14, 2023.
Taiwan Presidential Office/Handout via Reuters

A State Department official said on Monday there’s no reason for Beijing to “over torque” visits by Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te to the United States this week, with the presidential hopeful vowing in New York that his self-governing island would never “fear or retreat.”

Lai, who has served as President Tsai Ing-wen’s vice president during her second term, is a favorite to succeed the popular but term-limited president after January’s elections. He arrived in New York on Saturday and departed Sunday en route to an official visit to Paraguay, which is one of the democratic island’s few remaining Latin American allies.

Speaking in New York, and less than six months out from Taiwan’s elections, Lai pledged not to back down in the face of threats from Beijing, which has vowed to “reunite” Taiwan with the mainland.

“At this critical moment, I hope that we can once again pledge here and now that regardless of the magnitude of the threat posed by authoritarianism to Taiwan, we will not fear or retreat,” Lai said. “We will steadfastly uphold the values of democracy and freedom.”

Left: Supporters cheer Taiwan's Vice President Lai Ching-te as he arrives at the Lotte Hotel in Manhattan in New York City, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023. Right: Protesters gather outside an event attended by Lai in Manhattan, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters photos)

He also said democratic Taiwan’s struggle against threats of invasion from communist China was a struggle for democracy worldwide.

“The peace in the Taiwan Strait belongs to the entire world,” the vice president said. “When Taiwan is secure, the world is secure. When there is peace in the Taiwan Strait, there is peace in the world.”

The status quo

Beijing claims Taiwan as “inalienable” territory under its “One China principle” and opposes direct ties between its leaders and those of the United States, and had publicly called for the trip to be canceled. 

Xie Feng, China’s ambassador in Washington, last month even likened Lai’s trip to a “charging gray rhino” causing a disturbance in the ties between Washington and Beijing, and China’s foreign ministry has said that the trip violates U.S. commitments to the idea of “One China.”

But U.S. officials have their own interpretation of the “One China” policy, and State Department principal deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said on Monday Lai’s trip was in keeping with it and not unusual.

“There is no reason to over torque this transit into anything escalatory,” Patel said in a press briefing. “This is consistent with our One China policy. We are not interested in deviating from the status quo; it is not any kind of pretext for coercion or provocative activity.” 

Taiwan's Vice-President Lai Ching-te receives the Key to the City from Asuncion's Mayor Oscar Rodriguez upon landing at Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Luque, Paraguay, on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, where he arrived to attend the inauguration of President-elect Santiago Pena. (Norberto Duarte/AFP)

“Such transits are routine, given the distances involved, and they are common,” he said, adding there had been 10 “transits” of Taiwanese vice presidents in the past two decades, not counting those made by its presidents. “All have occurred without incident. This transit by V.P. Lai is the 11th transit, and his second – he previously transited in 2021.”

Unofficial visits

Lai last visited the United States in 2022, and met virtually with 17 lawmakers. In 2020, he visited Washington during another trip, and attended an event also attended by then-President Donald Trump. 

However, U.S. officials outside of Congress and the Trump administration have tended to avoid even the possibility of meeting Taiwanese leaders during their unofficial “transits” through the United States due to the sensitivity involved and Beijing’s protests. 

That means Taiwanese officials typically avoid Washington. Tsai, the island’s president, in April visited New York and Los Angeles during her own “transits” on the way to official visits to Guatemala and Belize.

On Monday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee was forced to retract a statement that suggested Lai visited Washington during his current trip, but called Taiwan a “model democracy” and a “key U.S. partner.” 

Lai himself appeared to be enjoying his brief stopover in New York.

“Happy to arrive at the #BigApple, icon of liberty, democracy & opportunities,” he wrote on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.

The Taiwanese presidential hopeful arrives back in San Francisco on Tuesday from a trip to Paraguay – where he is attending a presidential inauguration – before flying back to Taiwan on Wednesday.


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