Taipei, Jan. 7 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) began her second overseas visit since taking office in May 2016, a trip that will take her to four of Taiwan's Central American allies, as well as two U.S. cities, where she will have stopovers.
The goal of the trip, according to Tsai, is to consolidate diplomatic relations with the allies Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador and deepen trade exchanges with those countries.
But what will be closely watched by the international community is her transit stops in the U.S. cities of Houston and San Francisco. Tsai's administration has refused to divulge whether she will meet with any U.S. officials, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump or any members of his incoming administration.
Speaking at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport before departing for Honduras, Tsai reaffirmed her administration's efforts to improve Taiwan's foreign relations based on "steadfast diplomacy," which aims to create mutually beneficial relations with Taiwan's diplomatic allies.
Through the visit, the president said she hopes to consolidate Taiwan's relations with the four allies, which she said all have long-standing friendships with the Republic of China (Taiwan's official name).
She said she will not only meet with the presidents of the four countries but will also seize the opportunity to interact with leaders from other countries.
The second goal of her visit is to deepen bilateral cooperation, she said, noting that there may be many opportunities in Central America.
It is important to strengthen trade relations with the four countries, according to Tsai.
Meanwhile, she will meet with Taiwanese diplomats stationed there to boost their morale and see Taiwanese expatriates there.
During the nine-day visit, Tsai will also be able to meet with heads of state from other countries who will attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Tsai and her entourage are traveling on an EVA Air-chartered flight. Prior to arriving in Honduras on Jan. 8 on the first leg of trip, she will make a stopover in Houston on Jan. 7, according to the itinerary.
Her office has not released details about who she will meet with in Houston, besides Taiwanese expatriates. She will also visit the technology industry there.
On Jan. 8 after arriving in Honduras, she will inspect a bilateral cooperative project between Taiwan and that country. On Jan. 9, she will meet with President Juan Orlando Hernandez before departing for Nicaragua.
Tsai will attend Nicaraguan President Ortega's inauguration ceremony on Jan. 10, after meeting with Taiwanese businesspeople based in Nicaragua earlier that day.
On Jan. 11, Tsai will arrive in Guatemala, where she will hold discussions with President Jimmy Morales. She will head to El Salvador the next day, and will meet with El Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, according to the itinerary.
On her way back from Central America, she will make a transit stop in San Francisco on Jan. 13 -- during which she will meet with Taiwanese expatriates and visit the innovation industry there.
She is scheduled to return to Taiwan on Jan. 15.
The visit comes after Taiwan lost one diplomatic ally in December, amid strained cross-Taiwan Strait ties. Taiwan severed official ties with Sao Tome and Principe, after the African country decided to break its ties with Taiwan, mainly due to Taipei's refusal to meet its demand for financial aid.
Sao Tome and Principe resumed diplomatic ties with China later that month.
There are growing concerns that Taiwan may lose more diplomatic allies if relations with China continue to deteriorate and that Beijing may be trying to woo away Taiwan's allies to put pressure on Tsai for not accepting the "1992 consensus" that Taiwan and mainland China are part of one China as the sole political foundation for the development of cross-strait exchanges.
(By Elaine Hou, Sophia Yeh and Chiu Chun-chin)ENDITEM/cs