Taiwan’s President Meets With Ted Cruz in the U.S., and China Objects

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan met with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in Houston and then flew off to visit leaders in Latin America, seeking to promote her island’s cause as it gets positive signals from President-elect Donald J. Trump.

The meeting on Sunday with Mr. Cruz, who lost to Mr. Trump in the Republican presidential primary contest, suggested that Ms. Tsai was looking to expand her ties to the Republican Party as it takes control of the White House and keeps its grip on Congress.

“I was honored to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan today,” Mr. Cruz said in a statement released after the meeting. “We discussed our mutual opportunity to upgrade the stature of our bilateral relations in a wide-ranging discussion that addressed arms sales, diplomatic exchanges and economic relations.”

Mr. Cruz added that members of Congress from the Houston area had received a “curious” letter from the Chinese Consulate requesting that they not meet with Ms. Tsai.

Ms. Tsai’s stop in Houston preceded visits to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, four of the 20 countries, along with the Vatican, that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan rather than China. Last month, São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Beijing’s influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is growing, and it is expected to achieve recognition from more countries, as China is the wealthier benefactor.

The United States does not maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan as a result of negotiations with Beijing that led to Washington’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1979.

Under the “One China” policy, which underpins relations between China and the United States, Washington acknowledges that Beijing claims Taiwan while pledging to defend Taiwan from attack. The Communist Party of China has vowed to retake Taiwan, a democracy, by force if necessary.

China has warned Mr. Trump against making changes to the One China policy after he takes office on Jan. 20. The warning came in response to a phone call between Ms. Tsai and Mr. Trump after his November election victory, the highest-level exchange between American and Taiwanese leaders since the end of diplomatic relations and one that has threatened to upend relations between Washington and Beijing.

For Ms. Tsai, it provided a potential opening with Mr. Trump’s party.

“Taiwan has maintained relations with China hawks in the Republican Party over the past several administrations,” said Ian Rowen, a postdoctoral fellow at Academia Sinica in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. “Cruz is influential above and beyond many senators, given his performance in the last election campaign. It makes sense to add Cruz, whatever his relationship is going to be with the Trump administration.”

Echoing the defiant Twitter posts Mr. Trump issued after speaking with Ms. Tsai, Mr. Cruz bluntly refused to allow Beijing to set the terms of meetings between officials from the United States and Taiwan.

“The People’s Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves,” Mr. Cruz said. “This is about the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, an ally we are legally bound to defend. The Chinese do not give us veto power over those with whom they meet. We will continue to meet with anyone, including the Taiwanese, as we see fit.”

While American leaders have vowed to defend Taiwan from attack, the United States is not legally bound to do so, despite what Mr. Cruz said.

While in Texas, Ms. Tsai also met with Gov. Greg Abbott, with whom she discussed energy, trade and commerce. Reducing Taiwan’s economic reliance on China has been a major focus for the Tsai administration, which took office in May.

In the wake of the meetings, Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Beijing opposed any contact between Taiwan’s leader and “anyone from the U.S. government,” saying it threatens to hurt ties between Beijing and Washington.

A Chinese-language statement about Ms. Tsai’s time in Houston, released by Taiwan’s presidential office, did not mention the meetings with Mr. Cruz or Mr. Abbott, focusing instead on her attendance at a banquet for ethnic Chinese who live overseas.

At the event, Ms. Tsai said that her administration had been committed to deepening relations between Taiwan and the United States, according to the statement. “The U.S. is Taiwan’s most important ally and friend, and it occupies a special place in the hearts of the Chinese people,” it said.

Before leaving Houston, Ms. Tsai, speaking with reporters, said that her visits to the four Central American countries would “show the international society that Taiwan is a capable and responsible partner for cooperation.”

After her Central American tour, Ms. Tsai will pass through San Francisco on her return to Taiwan. On Saturday, Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said in an email to The Associated Press that neither Mr. Trump nor anyone on his transition team would be meeting with Ms. Tsai.

In June, Ms. Tsai met with Senator Marco Rubio in Miami en route to Panama, another country with diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

She has also previously met with Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff.

Mr. Rowen, the postdoctoral fellow, said that the visits were timely given Mr. Trump’s ascendance.

“In general, it raises Tsai’s national and international stature to be going on trips like this,” Mr. Rowen said. “There is, however, the potential for a shift in U.S.-Taiwan relations, so of course she’s going to seize the opportunity to meet with as many officials as possible.”

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