Taiwan Vice President William Lai left for a trip to the United States, which China has condemned and Taiwanese officials fear could prompt more Chinese military activity around the democratically governed island.
Lai, the front-runner to become Taiwan’s president in elections in January, is officially making only transit stops in the United States on his way to and from Paraguay for the swearing in of its president.
Taipei and Washington say such stopovers are routine and no cause for China to take “provocative” actions, but Beijing has reacted with anger at what it sees as a further sign of U.S. support for Taiwan, which it claims as sovereign Chinese territory.
Lai, speaking to reporters at Taiwan’s main international airport at Taoyuan, made only fleeting mention of the U.S. part of his trip, simply noting he was going to New York first.
He said he would use the Paraguay visit not only to deepen ties with that country but also to have “self-confident” exchanges with other countries and meet with delegations from like-minded partners. He did not say who.
Beijing particularly dislikes Lai, who has in the past described himself as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence”. Lai has, however, repeatedly said during the election campaign he does not seek to change the status quo.
Before leaving, Lai wrote in English on social media platform X, he was “excited to meet with US friends in transit” and to be going to Paraguay, one of just 13 countries to maintain formal ties with Taipei.
The Paraguay part of the trip is also important given China’s increasing efforts to take Taiwan’s remaining allies.