Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen broke new ground during her brief stopover in Los Angeles on Monday, a sign that the Taiwan Travel Act has some substance and increasing Washington’s friendly relations with the self-governing island.
Despite the lack of bilateral diplomatic ties, it appears the protocols by the US toward Tsai and her entourage were subtle breakthroughs.
Tsai toured the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on the outskirts of LA on Monday morning and then gave a short speech in front of a portion of the Berlin Wall in the library compound, the first time a sitting Taiwanese leader has done so on American soil.
In her address, Tsai paid homage to Reagan’s leadership in ending the Cold War and extolled the late Republican president’s “Six Assurances” – assuring the continuity of arms sales, the status of the Taiwan Relations Act as well as no mediation role for the US, no change in its stance regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty, no prodding for unification talks with Beijing and no prior consultation with Beijing regarding arms sales – as the cornerstone of the US-Taiwan partnership throughout the decades.
She quoted Reagan as saying “everything is negotiable except two things: our freedom and our future,” and added that these words had touched a chord among all Taiwanese.
Tsai’s audience included Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, and James Moriarty, the chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan.
Unlike her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, who stayed low-key during US transit stops so as not to ruffle Beijing’s feathers, Tsai’s office went on the offensive by making public part of the president’s itinerary in LA.
And the restrictions long imposed on the president’s press corps were quietly lifted for the first time, as journalists accompanying Tsai were allowed to report onsite and conduct live broadcasts, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
Escorted by a police motorcade, Tsai was also the first leader to inspect one of the island’s de facto consulates in the US, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office-Los Angeles, since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
“Don’t miss this once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity,” she said to the hundreds of Taiwanese expatriates gathered at the office to greet her.
Meanwhile, US media reported that a trio of pro-Taiwan members of the US House of Representatives from California – Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, the committee’s Asia and Pacific subcommittee Democratic ranking member Brad Sherman, and Representative Judy Chu – had also joined Tsai in LA and called on Washington to grant her “a visit to the US capital.”
Sherman said the Taiwan Travel Act, which became law in March, was aimed at “encouraging Taiwanese presidents to visit the US capital Washington.”
“I want to see one of the highest level of visits between the US and Taiwan and that is to welcome you [Tsai] in Washington, DC,” Sherman was reported to have said by Politico.
Taipei-based Up Media also cited a source saying Tsai visited a US federal government agency in Los Angeles in an “unprecedented” arrangement, though the website of the Presidential Office had not released any more details of Tsai’s itinerary in the US city.
Tsai is now believed to be en route to Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, where she will attend the inauguration of president-elect Mario Abdo Benitez.
Only 18 countries now recognize Taiwan, with Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic switching their allegiance to Beijing this year. Sao Tome and Principe and Panama severed their ties last year.
Beijing has been wooing Paraguay and Belize as well – the two allies to which Tsai is making state visits.