Tsai Ing-wen is hastening the demise of her dream of independence from China
Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen departed on Wednesday for a trip to Guatemala and Belize, which is also bookended by US stops in New York and Los Angeles.
This comes at a time when another Central American nation, Honduras, has just established diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China, i.e., mainland China, leaving the so-called Republic of China - the official name used for the island by the de facto government of Taiwan - in the dust. The move leaves only 13 UN member states (out of 193) that recognize Taiwan as a country.
Rumors that Tsai might meet with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California have been harshly criticized by Beijing. China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian stated, "If [Tsai] engages with US House Speaker McCarthy, it will be another provocation that seriously violates the One China principle, undermines China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."
Additionally, recent parliamentary delegations from Czechia and Germany to Taiwan have also stoked China's anger while Nancy Pelosi's 2022 visit to Taipei is still fresh. During the former house speaker's visit, flights in China's Fujian province near Taiwan were disrupted, Taiwan's "presidential office" was targeted by an overseas DDoS attack, and there was even a bomb threat sent to Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport. China also held a major military drill that pretty much encircled the entire island, and crossed into Taiwan's claimed territorial waters in the days immediately following Pelosi's departure.
The official response saw Beijiing cut various lines of dialogue and cooperation with Washington, including climate talks that were ongoing between the two major economies. China basically saw Pelosi's visit not as the rogue actions of a separate and independent branch of government, the legislature, but as a statement by the federal government. Beijing felt the government of President Joe Biden could have intervened to stop the Speaker's provocative trip, but chose not to do so.
To be sure, even though McCarthy is a Republican and Biden is a Democrat, China will still feel that Biden has the power to eliminate Tsai's trip. He's the head honcho, the President of the United States, after all. If Tsai's meeting with McCarthy goes forward, Beijing will likely accelerate the pace at which it "poaches" diplomatic ties from Taiwan and continue to isolate the leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Tsai Ing-wen.
As we saw with Honduras, switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, and also with Nicaragua formulating a free trade agreement with Beijing, Central American countries need the economic means to develop. Purely out of necessity, countries like Guatemala, Belize and even Haiti could end up willing to join Beijing in the near future - or wishing they had done so before receiving the Taiwan leader. In my opinion, the international heat from Tsai's visit to the former two's countries may just be too dramatic while delivering relatively little in terms of results.
Beijing still has the option of hitting Washington where it hurts the most - the economic and trade spheres - by disrupting US supply chains, which are strongly tied to China. This option has always been on the table but wasn't used even back when Pelosi visited Taiwan. It would hurt China as well, but if Beijing feels it is pushed far enough, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Most Americans couldn't find Taiwan on a map, so it's highly unlikely most of them would know who Tsai Ing-wen is. However, she is a deeply polarizing figure for people with a bit of political sophistication and that's why her visit is unlikely to be met with universal approval. Instead, it will only make people angry, divided and sew discord. A cursory glance at US politics over the past several years reveals that this is not what the country needs right now. And, indeed, a large protest was staged outside of her hotel in New York City for posterity.
Ultimately, the Taiwan leader's international sojourn will not net any positives for anyone. In fact, it is likely to speed up the decline of the island's little remaining diplomatic cover. At the same time, the US and its people could suffer as a result of the controversy. Tsai, the agent of chaos, is simply going on a vanity trip while hastening the demise of her dream for "Taiwan independence." It also seems that domestic political groups in Taiwan share a similar view.