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Taiwan’s President Begins Trip to Central America Amid Dire Warnings from China

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan says “external pressure” will not stop the self-ruled island from engaging with the world.

Tsai made the vow Wednesday shortly before departing Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei for official visits to Guatemala and Belize. She told reporters that Taiwan is “calm and confident” while also unyielding and not seeking provocation.

She added that Taiwan will uphold the values of “freedom and democracy.”

Tsai’s 10-day mission to the Central American neighbors will include a stopover in New York City on the way to Guatemala, then a stopover in Los Angeles before heading home. News outlets say she is expected to meet U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during her stop in Los Angeles. The Republican leader represents a legislative district in California.

China, which considers the island a breakaway province, is opposed to Tsai’s stopovers in the United States. Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Wednesday Beijing will consider any meeting between Tsai and Speaker McCarthy “another provocation that seriously violates the one-China principle” and “destroys peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Zhu says China will take countermeasures if the meeting occurs, but did specify what actions the government might take.

China responded to a visit to Taiwan last August by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by launching several days of massive military drills in the Taiwan Strait, including firing ballistic missiles in the waterway that separates the island from mainland China.

Officials in the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden have defended the decision to allow Tsai’s stopovers in New York and Los Angeles, saying that past Taiwanese presidents have routinely made stopover visits in the U.S. on their way to other nations, including Tsai, who has made six stopover visits between 2016 and 2019.

The officials say China should not use Tsai’s stopover in the U.S. as a reason to take any aggressive action towards Taiwan.

Taiwan has been self-governed since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces were driven off the mainland by Mao Zedong’s Communists. China has vowed to bring the island under its control by any means necessary, including a military takeover.

Tsai’s diplomatic mission comes days after Honduras formally established diplomatic relations with China, leaving Taiwan with only 13 countries that recognize it as a sovereign state. Beijing has launched an aggressive campaign to convince Taiwan’s remaining allies to end diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.