Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was greeted in Los Angeles Chinatown on Tuesday by lion dancers and hundreds of flag-waving supporters.
The public appearance, unusual for a leader of Taiwan, was a sign of the country's improving relationship with the United States. Because of Beijing's view that Taiwan is a renegade province of China, Taiwanese presidents have confined themselves in previous U.S. visits to holding private meetings in hotels.
Ma was on his way home after visiting Sao Tome and Principe, Burkina Faso and Honduras -- three of Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies. The State Department terms such U.S. stopovers “transits” that are “consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan.”
“It shows there's a great deal of confidence between Taipei and Washington that Ma will stay within the ground rules of not making a huge political splash during his transit,” said Alan D. Romberg, director of the Stimson Center's East Asia program.
In a speech inside the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Assn. on Broadway, Ma spoke of his longstanding relationship with Chinatown organizations. As a graduate student at Harvard University, he said, he became a spokesman for the local benevolent association. He told the audience that there are many ways in which Taiwan and China should cooperate, noting the progress from a state of near-war to a largely peaceful relationship.
Even though only 20 or so countries have diplomatic relationships with Taiwan, more than 130 countries allow Taiwanese citizens to enter their borders without visas, which is a sign of international respect, Ma said.
Despite an influx of immigrants from China in recent decades, Los Angeles Chinatown organizations remain generally supportive of Taiwan. In San Francisco, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Assn. no longer flies the Taiwanese flag and has stopped celebrating Double 10 Day, which commemorates the Republic of China's birth.
Not all Taiwanese Americans were thrilled about Ma’s visit. Supporters of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party, who usually protest when presidents from the opposing Kuomintang visit, said they would not bother this time, with Ma in his last term and facing low approval ratings at home.
“He keeps thinking that if he talks it through with China, there will be peaceful unification. This is something most Taiwanese cannot accept,” said Jerome Cheng, president of the Democratic Progressive Party's U.S. West chapter.
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