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Tsai Ing-wen’s Travels to the Americas Draws the Ire of China

Last week, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen led a delegation of 120 people on a trip to reinforce diplomatic relations with Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. She stopped in the U.S., traveling through Houston on her way to meet with leaders of the four nations.

Although an official with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team said that neither Trump nor transition officials would be meeting with Tsai, Beijing will nonetheless watch Tsai’s trip, looking for any signs that Trump’s team will further engage with Taiwan.

Last month, Trump breached diplomatic etiquette when he had a phone conversation with Tsai. Beijing became more concerned when Trump questioned a U.S. policy that recognized Taiwan as a part of China rather than as a sovereign nation.

Tsai’s trip is an attempt to bolster relations with allies in Central America as Beijing furthers its attempts to isolate Taiwan. Tsai is likely to keep the U.S. stops low-key in order to avoid escalating tensions with China, which is angry with her refusal to endorse the concept that Taiwan and China are part of a single Chinese nation.

Observers watched to see if any of the four Central American nations would back away from diplomatic relations with Taipei in the face of pressure from China, but they say that stronger U.S. support under Trump’s administration could help to balance any losses brought about by China’s attempts to sever relationships between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies.

If China decides to aggressively pursue Taiwan’s existing allies, fighting the massive Beijing government could become too expensive for Taipei, which could cause Tsai to seek deeper ties with the U.S.

“She may now think that it’s America or bust,” said Sean King, Senior Vice President at consulting firm Park Strategies. “She’s probably going to lose those peripheral countries eventually anyway, so why not go for the gusto and get as close to the U.S. while she can?”

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