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Taiwan prez Tsai Ing-wen heads to Americas as move set to irk China

Beijing: Taiwan's leader pledged to bolster her self-ruled island's presence on the international stage as she set off on Saturday to visit four Central American allies on a trip that includes US transits and looks set to raise China's ire.

President Tsai Ing-wen said the visits to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador would "show the international society that Taiwan is a capable and responsible partner for cooperation."

She will transit through Houston and San Francisco, stops that will likely irritate Beijing, which has urged Washington to prevent the self-ruled island's leader from stopping in the U.S. and "refrain from sending any wrong signal to the Taiwanese independence forces."

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. AP

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. AP

Beijing regards the self-governing island as part of China and officials complained after President-elect Donald Trump last month breached diplomatic protocol by speaking by phone with the Taiwanese leader. Trump raised further concerns in Beijing when he questioned a U.S. policy that since 1979 has recognized Beijing as China's government and maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan.

It was not clear if Tsai would meet President-elect Donald Trump or anyone from his transition team, though analysts say she is likely to meet with U.S. politicians.

U.S. lawmakers often meet with Taiwanese presidents when they transit through the U.S. — most recently in June, when Tsai met in Miami with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

The Taiwanese leader's visits come as Beijing has ratcheted up efforts to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, intervening to prevent the island's participation in international forums and establishing diplomatic relations with former Taiwan allies Gambia and Sao Tome and Principe. The moves have been seen as effectively abandoning the unspoken diplomatic truce that lasted eight years under Tsai's China-friendly predecessor.

Speaking to reporters before boarding her flight Saturday, Tsai said the visits to the Central American countries were also aimed at strengthening economic and trade relations with the allies to produce "concrete results" benefiting both sides.

Tsai, who is leading a delegation of 120 people, will attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Updated Date: Jan 07, 2017 12:01 PM

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