China considers Taiwan its most important diplomatic issue, and is a constant source of friction between Beijing and Washington, which is the island’s most important international backer and arms supplier.
China has a particular dislike of Lai, who has previously described himself as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence”, a red line for Beijing which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
WILLING TO TALK
Lai, who has pledged to maintain peace and the status quo, reiterated in New York that on the basic of dignity and parity he was “very willing” to talk to China and seek peace and stability.
But Lai said he will protect Taiwan’s sovereignty, that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future and that the Republic of China – Taiwan’s formal name – and the People’s Republic of China are “not subordinate to each other”.
Both Taipei and Washington are aiming for the US stopovers to be low-key, and have called on China not to take any provocative action in response.
Still, Taiwanese officials say China is likely to launch military drills this week near Taiwan, using Lai’s US stopovers as a pretext to intimidate voters ahead of a next year’s election and make them “fear war”.
On Monday, the Eastern Theatre Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army, which has responsibility for the area around Taiwan, showed pictures on its WeChat account of troops practising storming a beach, though did not give the location, timing or specifically mention Taiwan.
It said the soldiers guided armoured vehicles “to the enemy frontline positions and launched a fierce attack”.
China carried out war games around Taiwan in April after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen returned from California where she met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy while also on a transit on her way back from Central America.