Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks to journalists before her trip to the US and allies in the Caribbean. Photo: Handout

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen embarked on her trip to the United States Thursday, the third such visit since taking office in 2016. This time she is scheduled to spend a total of four nights on US soil, with much-heralded stopovers in New York City and Denver, Colorado.

Before hopping on her presidential aircraft, Tsai told accompanying reporters that some minor turbulences could be expected on the 12,500-kilometer trip from Taipei to New York’s JFK Airport. But for sure the latest US arms “wholesale” deal –  consisting of 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger anti-tank missile systems to beef up Taiwan’s defense against looming Chinese aggression – has provided strong tailwinds for Tsai, as she flies in to cement ties with the island’s unofficial ally.

Tsai’s symbolic stay in New York City will be watched closely. As the largest city in the US and home to the United Nations headquarters it will be an ideal stage for Tsai to make points and rally support. Though her itinerary in the city remains classified, it is believed that she will deliver a speech during a meet-and-greet with representatives of the Taiwanese disperoa and diplomats and dine with several hardliners in the US Congress.

Tsai has previously spent only one night in New York City to change flights, making the two-night stay appear as a breakthrough.

Taiwanese expatriates wave Taiwan and US flags at a reception in LA during Tsai’s visit last year. Photo: Handout
Tsai chats with technicians inside NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston in August 2018, the first time a sitting Taiwanese leader has been inside a venue of the US federal government. Photo: Presidential Office of Taiwan

She has also stopped over at Los Angeles, Houston and Honolulu during previous visits overseas. The cities she passes through, who she talks to and the level of hospitality she is accorded are usually seen as indicators of the well-being of US-Taiwan ties.

Tsai will arrive in Denver on Friday next week, on her return leg of the trip, where she will hold a press conference.

The official purpose of Tsai’s 12-day tour is to visit four island nations in the Caribbean that still recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, namely Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia. She will endeavour to convince them to stay loyal as Beijing dangles economic perks to poach the island’s dwindling allies.

In Haiti, Tsai will tour a Taiwan trade exhibition with Haitian President Jovenel Moise and attend a state banquet but will not remain overnight. Instead, she will proceed to Saint Kitts and Nevis for a four-day stay to sign exchange and investment deals and break the ground for a Taiwan-invested ocean park. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tsai’s focus will be on combating transnational crimes and the donation of police vehicles, and in Saint Lucia, she will open a hospital and a human resources center built with Taiwanese funds, according to Taiwan’s foreign ministry.

Tsai will return to Taiwan on July 22.

Beijing has again demanded the US deny Tsai’s entry. It is understood that the Chinese consulate in New York will organize anti-secessionist rallies to jostle for attention against the president’s supporters, both at the airport and along Tsai’ route to her undisclosed downtown hotel in Manhattan.

Read more:

Tsai’s brief yet high-profile LA transit stop beefs up Taiwan Travel Act

Taiwan’s Tsai rejects talk of Chinese takeover

New F-16V fighters could fly to Taiwan in 2020

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