Tue, Jul 09, 2019 - Page 8 News List

China in a tizzy over Tsai’s US stays

By Manik Mehta

Even as images of widespread protests in Hong Kong — there were about 2 million protesters on Monday last week, according to most US television channels — against the territory’s controversial extradition law proposal were flashed across to viewers, Americans glued to their TV sets were, ostensibly, missing another important development taking place on their own soil: Chinese officials in the US went into a tizzy to urge US Department of State officials and politicians not to allow “visits” to the US by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) this month.

Chinese officials, who have over the years built up in the US a support base of people of Chinese origin, and use them to drum up support for China’s cause, worked overtime after getting instructions to stop the US government from allowing Tsai to come to the US.

If one reads the fine nuances that get submerged in the diplomatese, Tsai this time will not be just making a “stopover,” which, usually, involves a few hours or a day’s layover before taking the first available flight out of the US.

Tsai will spend a total of four nights, which, in contrast to previous maximum stopovers of a day at a time, would acquire the character of a visit — a red flag for Beijing, which has described this as “unacceptable.”

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang (耿爽) called on the US to “cautiously and appropriately handle Taiwan-related issues … to avoid harming Sino-US relations, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Beijing has already lodged a strong demarche with Washington against allowing Tsai’s visits.

Tsai will visit Caribbean island nations that maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and she is to spend two nights in the US each way on her way to and from St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Haiti on a trip that begins on Thursday. She is expected to break up her journey in New York City and Denver.

Tsai’s stopovers will be, according to US sources, the longest by an officiating president of Taiwan, a fact that has particularly irked Beijing.

Although the US is not particularly bothered by the usual protests from China whenever a high-ranking dignitary sets foot on US soil, the State Department recited the usual “there’s-no-change-in-one-China-policy” assurance to China.

Experts see this assurance as an attempt to sugarcoat what is for China a bitter pill.

While reciting its “one China” policy assurance, Washington continues to maintain close cooperation with Taiwan and provides it with assistance.

The State Department explains that it gives permission to Taiwanese dignitaries for a stopover to enable them to transit the US, aimed at ensuring their safety, comfort, convenience and dignity.

In the past few years, even before US President Donald Trump took office, the mood in the US was increasingly turning against China’s growing aggressive stand on a host of issues — ranging from unfair trade practices through the militarization of the South China Sea to issues such as Xinjiang’s Uighur population, the repression in Tibet, the tightening grip on Hong Kong and threats against Taiwan.

Taiwan’s success as a vibrant democracy, along with its thriving market economy, are thorns in China’s flesh; Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who has vowed to bring Taiwan to the “motherland’s fold,” needs to impress his rivals vying for the country’s leadership that he can get Taiwan back.

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