Guam welcomes Taiwanese president on ‘unofficial visit’

Tsai stops in US territory on return leg of trip to Pacific allies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 4:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 4:12pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen arrived on the US Pacific island of Guam on Friday on her way back from visiting Taipei’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific, a trip that caused strong objections from Beijing, which claims the island as its own.

Beijing had complained to Washington and urged the United States not to allow Tsai to transit through its territory, which included two days in Hawaii at the start of her trip to Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands.

The timing is particularly touchy as US President Donald Trump is in due in Beijing next week.

China regards self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as sovereign territory and regularly calls it the most sensitive and important issue between it and the US, strongly objecting to transit stops by Taiwanese presidents.

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While the office of Guam governor Edward Calvo described it as a “private and unofficial visit”, Tsai was provided a police escort upon her arrival.

Members of Guam’s legislature were there at a welcome reception for Tsai hosted by Calvo, who spoke of “island nations that share a common vision of peace and prosperity”.

In response, Tsai spoke of Guam’s attractions as a tropical island, and called it an “ideal place to visit”.

“I am confident we can bring Guam and Taiwan closer,” she said.

Guam is home to a big US military base and would be key to any US help to Taiwan in the event of a conflict with mainland China. Beijing has never renounced the possible use of force to bring the island under its control.

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have nosedived since Tsai won the presidential election last year, with Beijing believing she wants formal independence for the island, a red line for the mainland.

For her part, Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with Beijing but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and security.

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The US State Department has said Tsai’s transits through US soil would be “private and unofficial” and were based on long-standing US practice consistent with “our unofficial relations with Taiwan”.

Trump angered Beijing in December by taking a telephone call from Tsai soon after he won the presidential election.

Tsai has been in the United States twice this year. In January, she stopped over in Houston and San Francisco on her way to and from Latin America.

In San Francisco, she visited the headquarters of Twitter, which is blocked in mainland China.