Taiwan’s Vice President in New York for US Stopover En Route to Paraguay

Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai arrives at Taoyuan International Airport before his departure to the United States for a stopover in New York on his way to Paraguay, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on Aug. 12, 2023. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

NEW YORK—Taiwan Vice President William Lai arrived in New York on Saturday at the start of a sensitive U.S. stopover.

Mr. Lai, the front-runner to become Taiwan’s president in elections in January, is officially making only transit stops in the United States on his way to and from Paraguay for the swearing in of its president next week.

The China Airlines flight Mr. Lai took from Taipei landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport shortly after 8:15 p.m. local time, according to flight tracking app Flightradar24.

Neither Taiwan nor the United States has given exact details about his U.S. schedule, which both are aiming to keep low key, according to officials briefed on the trip.

Taipei and Washington call U.S. stopovers by Taiwanese officials routine and no cause for the Chinese regime to take “provocative” actions, but Beijing has reacted with anger at what it sees as a further sign of U.S. support for Taiwan.

The Chinese regime claims the island as its own, despite Taiwan being a de facto independent country, with its own military, democratically-elected government, and constitution.

The Chinese communist regime is likely to launch military drills next week near Taiwan, using Mr. Lai’s U.S. stopovers as a pretext to intimidate voters ahead of a next year’s election and make them “fear war,” Taiwanese officials say.

Mr. Lai, speaking to reporters before leaving Taiwan, made only fleeting mention of the United States part of his trip, simply noting he was going to New York first.

Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai speaks at Taoyuan International Airport before his departure to the United States for a stopover in New York on his way to Paraguay, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on Aug. 12, 2023. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Mr. Lai’s U.S. stopover will be the 11th by a Taiwanese vice president, according to the State Department, which calls them routine but “private and unofficial.”

Washington does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is its most important international source of weapons, and the island’s status is a constant source of friction with Beijing.

Paraguay is one of the few remaining countries in the world that retains formal ties with Taiwan.

Mr. Lai has made one prior U.S. transit as Taiwan’s vice president, in January 2022 on a trip to Honduras, a then-ally of the island that switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing in early 2023.

Mr. Lai said he would use the Paraguay visit not only to deepen ties with that country but also to have “self-confident” exchanges with other countries and meet with delegations from like-minded partners. He did not say who.

This would “let the international community understand that Taiwan is a country that adheres to democracy, freedom, and human rights, and actively participates in international affairs,” Mr. Lai added.

Mr. Lai went to Honduras last year for the inauguration of its president and had a brief though symbolic chat there with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. The United States has not announced who may be going to Paraguay next week.

Before leaving, Mr. Lai wrote in English on social media platform X, formerly called Twitter, that he was “excited to meet with U.S. friends in transit” and to be going to Paraguay, one of just 13 countries to maintain formal ties with Taipei.

Laura Rosenberger, chair of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a U.S. government-run non-profit that carries out unofficial relations with Taiwan, responded on X that AIT was looking forward to welcoming him “during his transit en route to Paraguay”.

Mr. Lai is to return from Paraguay via San Francisco and is due back in Taiwan on Friday, according to the official schedule for the trip published on Saturday, which did not mention the U.S. legs.

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