BEIJING — It is China’s “priority” to stop Taiwan’s vice president and presidential frontrunner William Lai from visiting the United States next month, the country’s ambassador in Washington said on Wednesday, as Beijing steps up its warnings against the trip.
China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up military and political pressure over the past three years to try and force the island to accept Beijing’s sovereignty claims, which the government in Taipei strongly rejects.
Taiwan will hold presidential and parliamentary elections in January, with Lai, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate, the frontrunner in most opinion polls.
Lai is making what are officially stop overs in the United States on his way to and from Paraguay for the Aug. 15 inauguration of its new president, drawing anger from Beijing which slammed Lai as a separatist.
Chinese ambassador Xie Feng told the Aspen Security Forum that “Taiwan is China’s Taiwan” and that the country wanted a peaceful “reunification,” but Taiwanese “separatists” were advancing their agenda, seeking US support.
“They even do not admit they are Chinese. So this is a very dangerous path they are taking,” Xie said.
Provocative moves by Taiwan “separatists” should be contained, he added.
“Now the priority for us is to stop Lai Ching-te from visiting the United States, which is like a grey rhino charging at us,” Xie said, using Lai’s Chinese language name.
A “grey rhino” event refers to a highly obvious yet ignored threat.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said in response that China had no cause to use Lai’s transit to “start a fight,” and China was acting absurdly in trying to claim it was an upholder of peace while continuously harrying the island with its military.
“As senior US officials have publicly emphasized, the relevant arrangements are no different from previous practice,” the ministry said in a statement.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said that on Thursday it had detected 22 Chinese warplanes around the island, some of which crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait, while seven Chinese warships carried out “combat readiness patrols.”
Lai last transited the United States in January of last year on a visit to Honduras. While there, he briefly spoke with US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and her government have repeatedly offered talks with China but been rejected, as Beijing views them as separatists. Both Tsai and Lai say only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
The top US diplomat in Taipei said on Wednesday that there was no reason for China to take “provocative” action in response to Lai’s stopovers in the United States and that such transits have happened for many years and are routine.
In August last year and then again in April this year, China staged large-scale war games around Taiwan, angered by the August visit to Taiwan of then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and in April by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen meeting current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles, while she was transiting back from a visit to Central America. — Reuters