TAIPEI – Taiwan’s new President Tsai Ing-wen will visit Panama and Paraguay to boost Latin American ties later this month, as Beijing takes steps to isolate Taipei from its allies in an effort to force the island nation to recognize it is part of China, an epa journalist reported.
Tsai will leave on June 24 to visit Panama and Paraguay, two of the 22 mostly-small nations that recognize Taiwan, and will transit through Miami and Los Angeles in the United States on both the outward and return journeys.
The main purpose of her Panama trip is to attend a ceremony marking the completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal scheduled for June 26, before she visits Paraguay on June 27-28, Deputy Foreign Minister Hou Ching-shan told a news conference.
In Panama, Tsai will hold talks with Panama’s President Juan Carlos Valera and visit Evergreen Marine’s Colon Container Terminal at Coco Solo, Hou added.
Taiwan is among the top users of the Panama Canal, while Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine is one of the world’s largest container shipping companies.
In Paraguay, Tsai is scheduled to hold talks with President Horacio Cartes, deliver a speech in Paraguay’s parliament and visit Taiwan investment projects.
In addition to Tsai, Panama has invited heads of state from 70 countries to the Panama Canal ceremony including Chinese President Xi Jinping, despite a lack of diplomatic ties between Beijing and Panama.
China will send a low-level official from its Ministry of Commerce responsible for foreign trade and international cooperation to the event, Hou said.
Taiwanese scholars have described Tsai’s Latin American trip – the first since her inauguration on May 20 – as both important and risky.
While the Panama Canal ceremony offers a chance for Tsai to boost her country’s international profile by meeting with foreign leaders, some observed that China may take steps to sabotage her visit
Beijing has been angered by the decision of Tsai – chairwoman of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party – to refuse to accept China’s ‘one China policy’ which states that both Taiwan and the Chinese mainland belong to ‘one China’.
In response Beijing has applied a series of punitive measures against Taipei: halting high-level talks, slashing imports from Taiwan, cutting the number of tourists to Taiwan and barring Taiwan from attending international events.
Observers warned that China might even break the ‘diplomatic truce’ – reached with former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou during Ma’s eight years in office when cross-Strait ties were peaceful – by forming diplomatic ties with Taiwan’s allies, they warned.
Even if China does not snatch away Taiwan’s allies, its maneuvers could persuade foreign countries to avoid sending leaders to the Panama Canal ceremony.