Tsai’s trip south a success, but woes await back home

Taiwanese president returning from Central America to thorny problem of relations with Beijing and Washington

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 10:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 11:12pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has wrapped up a widely watched visit to four Central American allies seen by analysts as relatively successful.

But awaiting her back home were a host of thorny issues, with the delicate problem of relations with Washington and Beijing seen as the trickiest one, they said.

Tsai, who had completed a week-long state trip to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador – four of Taiwan’s just 21 allies – stopped in San Francisco on Friday on her way back to Taiwan.

No diplomatic snub had been reported during her Central American visit and she got good news during her Nicaraguan stay, as Managua – originally seen as one of the allies that might switch formal recognition to Beijing – ended up in assuring her of no change in its relations.

Upon her arrival in San Francisco on Friday night, Tsai was given a high-level reception by the city government, which dispatched an honour guard of 60 motorcycles to take her to her hotel, Taiwanese media reported.

Taiwan president connects to Twitter during stop-over in San Francisco

Tsai, who likes using Facebook, reactivated a Twitter account she had not used for a few years during her visit to Twitter headquarters in San Francisco the next morning.

Her spokesman Alex Huang said Tsai made several phone calls to “her American friends, including US Republican Senator Cory Gardner” who reiterated US commitments to Taiwan.

All of Tsai’s movements during her transit stops in the US, including her previous one in Houston on January 7, were under the watchful eye of Beijing, which was angered by a congratulatory talk between her and US president-elect Donald Trump shortly after his election victory.

Analysts said as successful as Tsai’s Central American visit might have been, she would return to a host of thorny issues, including Trump and Washington’s support for the one-China policy, which Beijing has stressed is “non-negotiable”.

Beijing casts wary eye as Taiwan’s president makes stopover in the US

“The one-China policy issue is the trickiest one as it involves the power wrestling of Washington and Beijing,” said Sun Yang-ming, vice-president of the National Policy Foundation in Taipei.

As Tsai arrived in San Francisco, Trump told The Wall Street Journal “everything is under negotiation, including the one-China policy” when asked whether he supported the policy.

“The Tsai government must tackle the issue with great care to avoid becoming a pawn of Trump,” Sun said, adding that it was highly unlikely Beijing would tolerate any attempt to use Taiwan as a bargaining chip.