NYC Stopover By Taiwan VP Stirs Up Chinese Military Drill

NYC Stopover By Taiwan VP Stirs Up Chinese Military Drill
The Taiwanese vice president made a stop in Manhattan on his way to Paraguay, angering the Chinese government. (Dan Macy) 

The Lede: A New York City stopover during a trip to Paraguay by Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te (William) drew Beijing's ire and touched off a three-day Chinese military exercise off the coast of Taiwan, as Chinese officials denounced Lai as a "troublemaker through and through."

What We Know:

  • Lai arrived in New York on Saturday on his way to Paraguay and attended a banquet held by members of the U.S.-based Taiwanese diaspora. Upon his arrival, China’s foreign ministry voiced its firm opposition to any official interaction between the U.S. and Taiwan, while the Chinese military began conducting a three-day military exercise in the East China Sea a few hundred miles from Taiwan. China deployed 79 military aircraft and 23 naval vessels to areas near Taiwan in the week of Lai’s travels according to Taiwan's National Defense Ministry. China denounced Lai as a separatist and a ‘troublemaker through and through.’
  • In Paraguay, Lai attended the country’s inauguration for president Santiago Peña Palacios. Lai also interacted with other international guests including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Spanish King Felipe VI, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Halaan.
  • The Taiwanese vice president transited through San Francisco on his way back to Taipei. There were opposing rallies on Wednesday afternoon in Burlingame, California in anticipation for Lai’s arrival. Lai told supporters at an event there that he intends to make Taiwan into a future Asian Silicon Valley with an integral role in the global technology supply chain.

The Background: Lai is part of the so-called “deep green” faction of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is known for its openly pro-independence stance. Paraguay is one of only 13 states that maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Trips by Taiwanese officials through the U.S. are referred to as “transits” instead of visits because due to the lack of formal diplomatic relations with the government of Taiwan and the stopovers are packaged as part of an unofficial trip involving another destination. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen transited in California in March and met with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. In response to this trip, China launched three days of live-fire military drills around Taiwan. Lai is leading most polls for the upcoming elections. He is running against Ko Wen-je, former mayor of Taipei who is running a populist campaign outside of the established parties as well as Hou Yu-ih, the candidate for the Kuomintang nationalists who has been lagging in most polls.

Likely Outcomes:

  • These stopovers and China’s response fall in line with previous such events. There will likely not be any significant follow-ups, contacts with U.S. officials, or escalations after Lai returns to Taipei.
  • While other countries in Latin America lean into China’s influence, it appears that Paraguay wants to continue its ties with Taiwan. It remains to be seen how this will create different outcomes for Ascunción compared to other countries in the region.
  • Since winning the DPP nomination Lai has adopted a more moderate line on China and talks about Taiwan independence, emphasizing that he is a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence” who will work toward exercising sovereignty while trying to avoid stepping on toes. He has also highlighted his government’s ties to the U.S. in the election, which harms his more moderating stance with China.
  • If elected president, Lai would not be a great deviation from the current administration’s path under the DPP. Taiwan would be fostering ties with the U.S. and any goodwill that may arise with China would be virtually moot as Beijing’s least favored election outcome would be realized.


“If China uses the transits as an excuse to again launch verbal and military intimidation or other threatening methods, it just confirms international media reports that China is attempting to intervene in Taiwan’s election with military threats.” - William Lai, vice president of Taiwan and DPP candidate in the 2024 Taiwan presidential election

“When Taiwan is safe, the world is safe, and when there is peace on the Taiwan Strait, there will be world peace. No matter how great the threat of authoritarianism is to Taiwan, we absolutely will not be scared nor cower, we will uphold the values of democracy and freedom.” - William Lai, vice president of Taiwan and DPP candidate in the 2024 Taiwan presidential election

"We will build alliances and cooperation with a geopolitical perspective, seeking equal, balanced agreements. Paraguay’s relationship with Taiwan is an example of our friendly and cooperative spirit with nations for which we have deep affection and with whom we feel we are not only allies, but also brothers." - Santiago Pena Palacios, president-elect of Paraguay

“There is no reason to over-torque this transit into anything escalatory. This is consistent with our One China policy. We are not interested in deviating from the status quo. [It should not be] any kind of pretext or coercion or provocative activity.” - Vedant Patel, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State

“It’s up to the Chinese how they want to play it. Every serious [Taiwan presidential] candidate in the past has come to the United States for kind of an informal base touch — there is nothing new, radical or different about this.” - Daniel Russel, former senior Asia hand in the Obama administration

“There is some trepidation about the pending change in Taiwan’s leadership. While the U.S. will work with whoever is elected president, the transition is fraught with uncertainty and risk, whichever candidate wins.” - Bonnie S. Glaser, director of the Indo-Pacific program for the German Marshall Fund

Good Reads:

As a Taiwanese Presidential Contender Visits U.S., He Tries to Walk a Fine Line (NYT)

Taiwan VP says China military action to US stopover would be interference (Al Jazeera)

Taiwan VP Lai attends Paraguay presidential inauguration (Taiwan News)

Taiwan’s Vice President Says Island Will Stand Firm in Face of China Threats (VOA)

Taiwan’s Vice President Makes San Francisco Stop (VOA)

Taiwan’s VP defies Beijing with New York City transit stop (Politico)