Fights break out as Taiwan's President Tsai visits New York

Fights break out as Taiwan's President Tsai visits New York

People demonstrate outside Grand Hyatt hotel, where Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen
People demonstrate outside Grand Hyatt hotel, where Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is supposed to stay during her visit to the US, in New York City, US, Jul 11, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

NEW YORK: Police in New York had to break up fights between supporters and opponents of Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday (Jul 11) during a visit to the United States which will likely infuriate Beijing.

Taiwanese media broadcast footage of the clashes outside the Grand Hyatt, where Tsai is staying during her two-day US trip.

READ: Taiwan president in US after warning of threat from 'overseas forces'

Opponents of Tsai - many waving Chinese flags - chanted slogans and fought with supporters, while one man was seen being detained and handcuffed by police.

Police officers detain a man after scuffles broke out outside Grant Hyatt Jul 11 2019
Police officers detain a man after scuffles broke out outside Grand Hyatt hotel, where Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is supposed to stay during her visit to the US, in New York City, US, Jul 11, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Tsai is spending two days in New York ahead of a visit to diplomatic allies in the Caribbean.

Normally the head of a state passing through American soil would not spark controversy but Taiwan has long found itself in a precarious and unusual diplomatic situation.

The democratic island has ruled itself for seven decades but most countries do not recognise it - including the United States, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Yet Washington remains its most powerful unofficial ally and biggest arms supplier.

China sees Taiwan as part of its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

It bristles at any countries that might lend Taiwan diplomatic support or legitimacy.

"China is firmly opposed to official exchanges between the US and Taiwan," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing on Friday.

"We urge the US ... to not let Tsai Ing-wen pass through its territory," he said, adding that the US should not provide a platform for "Taiwan independence separatist forces."

With the US currently engaged in a trade war with China, relations between Taipei and Washington have warmed considerably.

Unlike the last three American presidents, who were wary of angering Beijing, Donald Trump has ramped up relations with Taiwan.

Demonstrators gather outside Grand Hyatt hotel Tsai Ing-wen Jul 11 2019
Demonstrators gather outside Grand Hyatt Hotel, where Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is supposed to stay during her visit to the US, in New York City, US, Jul 11, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon)

Last week the State Department approved US$2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including battle tanks and anti-aircraft missiles, the first big-ticket military deal for the island in years.

READ: China urges US to 'immediately cancel' arms sale to Taiwan

Tsai transited through the US during a trip to the Pacific earlier this year, as well as last year's visit to Paraguay and Belize, both prompting official Chinese protests.

"Taiwan will not succumb to intimidation," her office said in a statement released as the US visit kicked off, without specifically mentioning China. "All difficulties will only strengthen our determination to go out to the international community."

On Thursday evening Tsai met with envoys from the 17 remaining countries that still recognise Taiwan.

She will attend a business forum on Friday and meet students on Saturday morning before heading to the Caribbean.

Tsai will visit Haiti, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, and St Kitts and Nevis, which all recognise Taiwan.

China has poached five of Taipei's dwindling number of allies since Tsai became president in 2016.

people engaged in scuffle outside Grand Hyatt hotel, where Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen
People engage in scuffles outside Grand Hyatt Hotel, where Tsai Ing-wen is supposed to stay during her visit to the US, in New York City, US, Jul 11, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
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Haiti has vowed to maintain ties with Taipei despite neighbouring Dominican Republic establishing relations with China last year.

Taiwan pledged a US$150 million development loan to Haiti, while Beijing reportedly offered the Dominican Republic investments and loans to the tune of US$3 billion.

Source: AFP/nr

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