Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has been in Los Angeles on her first stopover in the US after embarking on a nine-day trip to Central and South America in a bid to shore up ties with the island’s remaining democratic allies.

She will also touch down in Houston on August 18 before going back to Taipei. The flights to the two US cities and Paraguay and Belize will be part of a 50-hour, 43,000-kilometer marathon journey, according to Tsai’s office.

“We only need to be firm [in reaching out to the world and conducting diplomatic ties] so that no one can obliterate Taiwan’s existence,” Tsai said at the airport before heading for Los Angeles, when almost at the same time the People’s Liberation Army had just wrapped up an anti-missile drill in the East China Sea while holding another war game in the Yellow Sea.

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Tsai’s itinerary. Photo: Presidential Office of Taiwan
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Tsai said before her trip on Saturday that ‘no one can obliterate Taiwan’s existence.’ Her top aide Chen Chu (second from left) will visit five US cities to deepen ties with the island’s unofficial ally. Photo: Presidential Office of Taiwan
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Tsai looks through windows as fighter jets of the Taiwanese Air Force escort her plane after take-off. Photo: Presidential Office of Taiwan
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Tsai arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday local time. Photo: Presidential Office of Taiwan

Many will be watching the level of reception Tsai gets while transiting through the two US cities and the ranking of the politicians she is scheduled to meet. The Taiwan Travel Act – a bill to encourage exchanges by cabinet-level officials between both sides as well as to facilitate senior Taiwanese officials to enter the US “under respectful conditions” and to meet with US officials – became law in March.

So far the only known event that Tsai attended in LA was a meet-and-greet with Taiwanese expatriates and US youngsters. She was believed to have stayed overnight at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown LA, where on Sunday Taiwanese flags were seen flying alongside the Stars and Stripes outside the hotel complex, the island’s semi-official Central News Agency reported.

It has also been reported that Tsai will deliver a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on the outskirts of LA on Monday local time.

Tsai met Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Greg Abbott on a stopover in 2017.

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Tsai attended a meet-and-greet with Taiwanese and US youngsters in Los Angeles. Photo: Presidential Office of Taiwan

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Tsai’s supporters and pro-Beijing groups all had a field day greeting and protesting against Tsai in Los Angeles. Photos: Central News Agency
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The Taiwanese flag alongside US flag outside the InterContinental Hotel in downtown LA as Tsai’s supporters await her arrival. Photo: Central News Agency

Observers say that as the protracted trade dispute has been straining Washington’s relations with Beijing, the Trump administration is more likely to ignore Beijing’s opposition to stopovers by a Taiwanese leader.

“Beijing’s problems with US support for Taiwan are always amplified at moments when US-China relations are unusually poor, such as now,” said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center, a research organization in Honolulu, during an interview with VOA last week.

It is noteworthy that Tsai’s top aide, Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu – a thorn in Beijing’s side for her stringent pro-independence remarks when serving as the mayor of Kaohsiung, a stronghold of secessionists – will stay behind in the US, meeting lawmakers and politicians in US cities on behalf of her boss while Tsai is en route to Paraguay.

In the Paraguayan capital of Asunción, Tsai will attend the inauguration of president-elect Mario Abdo Benitez on Wednesday, part of a three-day visit to the South American country, and then fly to Belmopan, Belize, to meet Prime Minister Dean Barrow and address the nation’s parliament.

Taiwan now has only 18 nations which continue to recognize its sovereignty after an exodus of ambassadors and diplomats from Taipei to Beijing since Tsai came to power in 2016. It has been Beijing’s approach to offer far more generous donations and economic perks to lure Taiwan’s former allies to its side.