Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou wrapped up his low-key but diplomatically significant stopover in New York and headed for Paraguay and the Caribbean yesterday, without having triggered any protest from rival Beijing.
During his 40-hour transit visit, Ma engaged in a series of activities carrying diplomatic significance, such as having breakfast with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and meeting US Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and ranking committee member Eliot Engel.
He also visited the site of the September 11 attacks in New York, toured the campus of his alma mater New York University, and met business executives and representatives from Chinese-American communities. Taiwan's state-run Central News Agency quoted Bloomberg as saying after the hour-long meeting with Ma that the United States was very lucky to have an ally like Taiwan.
Neither the Foreign Ministry in Beijing nor the cabinet-level Taiwanese Affairs Office commented on Ma's activities. Beijing once opposed any overseas visits by officials from Taiwan, which it still regards as a renegade province. Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Former president Lee Teng-hui's stopover in the US and his high-profile visit to his alma mater Cornell in 1995 set off a crisis across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing protested to the United States when then-president George W. Bush approved a stopover in New York in 2001 by Ma's predecessor Chen Shui-bian.
In 2006, Chen was asked to transit in Alaska rather than a major continental US city and nearly called off his trip following a protest from Beijing.
Taiwanese media said Ma had made it a principle in relations with the US "to be low profile" and advised the media corps with him not to carry reports on his visit to New York.
George Tsai Wei, a professor with the Sun Yat-sen Institute of Globalisation Studies at Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, said Beijing's mute reaction reflected an increased understanding between the political rivals.
"The development indicated that both sides have reached a mutual understanding over how to handle such an issue after years of consultation," Tsai said.
After a busy day Ma took to Facebook to tout the "continued success" of his administration's policy of flexible diplomacy.
In the post, Ma contrasted his foreign policy with that of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. They adopted what he said was a provocative policy that made Taiwan's tricky diplomatic position even more difficult by alienating potential allies and angering China.
Ma's Facebook post also noted that "this is the first time [a Republic of China] president has visited Haiti", although the countries have enjoyed diplomatic ties for 57 years.
Ma's visit to Paraguay will see him attend the inauguration of that country's new president, Horacio Cortes. Paraguay is the only South American country with formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Ma will visit Taiwan's four allies in the Caribbean Haiti, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Christopher and Nevis.
The president's stop in New York was his first in the city since he took office in May 2008. In 2010, Ma transited in the US on a visit to Latin American allies, without complaint from Beijing.