Taiwan's president is planning a pair of transit stops in the United States at the end of the month, despite increasingly harsh rhetoric from Beijing. The president's office announced that President Chen Shui-bian will travel to Panama and Belize, departing August 29 and returning on September 5.
The main purpose of the visit is to attend the inauguration of Panama's new president, Martin Torrijos.
President Chen's staff describes the trip as an opportunity to enhance relations with the Central American countries, both of which are among the few with diplomatic ties to Taiwan.
Chen Wen-zong, a spokesman for the president's office, says Mr. Chen will stop briefly in the United States.
"President Chen will make transit stops in two U.S. cities, which are Honolulu and Seattle, before and after his visit to Central America," he said.
Those stops are likely to generate stern protests from Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory and vows to bring it under mainland rule, by force if necessary.
Beijing has long sought to isolate the Taipei government internationally, insisting that other countries cannot have diplomatic relations with both Taiwan and the mainland.
The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but the democratic island has great support among Americans. The United States also is committed to defending the island from unprovoked attack.
Chen Wen-zong insisted there's nothing wrong with the president visiting his friends.
"Well, Taiwan is a sovereign state and we have many friends around the world, so I believe we have the right to visit our friends around the world," he said. "Furthermore, Taiwan has diplomatic ties with both Panama and Belize, both of which have no diplomatic relations with China, so we don't think China has the right to interfere with our relations with those two countries."
Nadine Siak, the information officer at the American Institute in Taiwan, confirmed that the U.S. government will accommodate the Taiwanese president based on the same criteria used in the past. She says those are "safety, comfort, and convenience while respecting the dignity of the traveler."
Aside from meeting Mr. Torrijos in Panama and Belize's prime minister, the Taipei government has been tight-lipped about others Mr. Chen will meet, particularly in Hawaii and Seattle.