China on Sunday condemned a brief US visit by Taiwan Vice President William Lai, saying he was a separatist and “a troublemaker through and through” and that Beijing would take strong steps to protect its sovereignty, something Taipei rebuked.
Lai, the front runner for Taiwan’s next president in January’s elections, arrived in New York late Saturday, in what is officially a transit en route to Paraguay for the inauguration of its president.
China, which claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, has repeatedly denounced Lai’s trip, which includes another stop in San Francisco on Wednesday on the way back to Taipei.
In a statement issued shortly after Lai landed in New York on a scheduled flight from Taipei, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it opposed any form of visit by “Taiwan independence separatists” to the United States.
“Lai adamantly adheres to the separatist position of Taiwan independence and is a troublemaker through and through,” the ministry said.
Taiwan is at the “core of China’s core interests,” and facts have consistently shown that the reason for rising cross-strait tensions is that Taiwan is trying to “rely on the United States to seek independence,” it said .
“China is closely following developments and will take decisive and forceful measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Taiwan’s China Policy-Making Council on Mainland Affairs said China is the real troublemaker, citing this month’s standoff with the Philippines in the South China Sea and ongoing military harassment of Taiwan, among other things.
“Our government staunchly defends national sovereignty and security, guards the defenses of democracy and freedom, and will never back down, much less surrender,” the council said in a statement.
China has a particular dislike for Lai, who has previously described himself as a “hands-on agent for Taiwan’s independence,” despite repeatedly saying during the campaign that he does not want to change the status quo and that only Taiwan’s people can decide its future .
LOW KEY VISIT
A person familiar with planning the trip said Lai will attend receptions with overseas Taiwanese and give a speech during the stopover in New York.
He will not be meeting with US lawmakers, the person said, adding Lai will keep the visit “low-key” in line with Taipei and Washington’s joint position to “manage the risks together as we approach this sensitive time.” faces an authoritarian region”.
Lai, who was greeted by flag-waving supporters upon his arrival at his New York hotel, wrote on social media platform X that he was “looking forward to seeing friends and participating in transit programs in New York.”
Laura Rosenberger, chair of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a US government-run nonprofit that maintains unofficial ties with Taiwan, said on X that she will meet Lai in San Francisco, where he attended his meeting on Wednesday going home.
China is likely to launch military exercises near Taiwan this week, using Lai’s US stopovers as an excuse to intimidate and instill “fear of war” in voters ahead of next year’s election, Taiwan officials say.
On Sunday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, which covers the territory around Taiwan, posted a short video on its WeChat account of fighter jets practicing dogfighting at an undisclosed location.
It said its forces had recently conducted “high-intensity flight training.”
Lais Transits come at a time when Beijing and Washington are trying to improve relations.
This includes the prospect of a visit to the US by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, which could pave the way for a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this year.
China has increased military activity around Taiwan over the past three years, trying to force the island to recognize Beijing’s sovereignty.
In April, China staged war games around Taiwan in furious response after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy on her way back to Taipei in California following her visit to Central America.