TAIPEI: Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen will visit three Pacific nations this month to shore up ties, said the foreign ministry as Beijing seeks to lure away Taipei’s dwindling number of allies.
Tsai will visit Palau, Nauru and Marshall Islands between March 21 and March 28 – her second official visit to the Pacific amid growing concerns about China targeting countries in the region.
Beijing has stepped up diplomatic pressure on Taiwan since Tsai took office in 2016, as she has refused to acknowledge its “one China” policy.
The two sides split after a civil war in 1949, but Beijing still sees the self-ruling island as part of its territory to be brought back into the fold.
Five countries have switched official recognition to Beijing since Tsai became president, leaving Taipei with only 17 diplomatic allies including six in the Pacific.
Beijing has also made progress with the Vatican, Taiwan’s most powerful official ally and its only one in Europe, by signing a landmark agreement with the Holy See on the appointment of bishops last year.A growing list of international companies have been pressured to list Taiwan as part of China on their websites while Taipei has also been blocked from attending a string of international events.
“Our allies in the Pacific have fully supported our participation in the international community,” deputy foreign minister Hsu Szu-chien told reporters.
“We believe that this visit will increase the understanding of Taiwan among the people in these countries ... and for Taiwanese people to get familiar with our good friends.”
Tsai, Taiwan’s first female leader, will also meet with Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, the first female head of state in the Pacific islands and join a women leaders’ conference hosted by the country, Hsu added.
He declined to give details about where Tsai will transit, saying it is “pending negotiation.”
Taiwan is typically low-key in announcing its leader’s specific itineraries, fearing China’s use of its power to disrupt.
Tsai’s last state visit was to Paraguay in August with US transits that prompted an official protest from Beijing after she gave a speech in Los Angeles – the first time in 15 years that a Taiwanese leader spoke publicly on US soil.
A Taiwanese bakery chain was pressured to declare its “firm support for the “one China” policy following boycott calls in China after serving Tsai at its shop in Los Angeles. — AFP