January 9, 2017 3:53 pm JST

Taiwan president meets US Sen. Cruz despite Beijing pressure

Tsai also reportedly lunched with Trump advisors in Houston

DEBBY WU, Nikkei staff writer

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen waves goodbye to Taiwanese nationals at Houston’s Omni Hotel (Photo by Debby Wu)

HOUSTON -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with United States Senator Ted Cruz on Sunday during transit in Houston ahead of a Central America tour, despite an attempt by China to prevent the encounter.

Later that day Tsai also reportedly lunched with Ed Feulner and Randall Schriver, two key foreign policy advisors to incoming U.S. President Donald Trump, according to the pro-government Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times.

Feulner is the founder of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative U.S. think tank, and helped set up a notorious December phone call between Tsai and Trump. Schriver is a pro-Taiwan former official in the George W. Bush administration who is reportedly being considered for the position of assistant secretary at the Department of Defense after Trump's inauguration.

Tsai's spokesman Alex Huang said the report was false, but confirmed Tsai did meet with some "American friends" during her Houston transit, without providing additional details. Yet some reporters from Taiwanese media outlets did spot Schriver at Omni Hotel, where Tsai was staying, on Saturday.

Tsai left Houston and arrived in Honduras on Sunday afternoon to begin her visit to Taiwan's four allies in Central America, in a trip that will also cover El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Tsai did not speak to the press again before she left Houston.

Cruz told reporters he had discussed military and economic issues with the Taiwanese president, adding that he received a request from Chinese officials to refrain from calling on Tsai.

"We discussed a range of issues, from increasing military cooperation both in terms of arms sales and in terms of joint exercises. We discussed increasing economic cooperation," Cruz said.

"Before this meeting, I and another member of the Texas congressional delegation received a letter from China asking us not to meet with President Tsai. That letter was not persuasive," he added.

Tsai also met with Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday. Hours after her arrival in Houston on Saturday, she met with Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee and Blake Farenthold, three Texan representatives of the U.S. Congress.

It has long been customary for a Taiwanese leader to make a transit stop in the U.S. when visiting allies in Central America. Tsai is expected to make a stopover in San Francisco on her way back, staying for a day before departing for Taiwan next Saturday.

Even though Taipei and Washington do not have diplomatic ties, the U.S. is Taiwan's sole weapons provider and most important strategic partner in the island's defense against China, which has not renounced the possible use of force to achieve unification with the self-governing, democratic island.

Any contact between Tsai and the Trump camp is almost certain to anger China, which claims Taiwan as its own after the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949. Beijing is strongly opposed to any overseas diplomatic activities conducted by Taiwan, as well as the island's participation in international affairs and organizations.

Tsai's trip comes amid growing friction between China and the U.S. following Trump's election victory in November over the president-elect's confrontational statements toward Beijing on political and trade issues.

Trump has rattled Beijing with his campaign pledge to induce American companies to move manufacturing jobs from China to the U.S. and his threats to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports.

He again irked Beijing when he took a call from Tsai on Dec. 2, the highest-level dialogue between Washington and Taipei since the U.S. cut ties with Taiwan and switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979. Trump also took to Twitter to defend the telephone conversation and referred to Tsai as "president" in one tweet, which was seen as an affront to Beijing.

A few days later, Trump hinted during a television interview that he may consider ditching Washington's longstanding "one China" policy -- a cornerstone of U.S.-China relations since 1972. With the directive, Washington acknowledges China's claim over Taiwan despite the 1949 split.

Despite the rancor, the New York Times reported on Saturday that Jared Kushner, Trump's key advisor and son-in-law, is discussing a deal with China's Anbang Insurance Group, the owner of New York's landmark Waldorf Hotel.

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