TAIPEI - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou will make two stops in the United States next week during a trip to take aid to earthquake-hit Haiti, officials said on Wednesday, a move likely to anger political rival China.
It comes at a time of increased friction between China and the United States, at odds over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, exchange rates, trade quarrels, climate change policy and Google Inc.'s dispute with Beijing over hacking and censorship.
The United States never allows official visits by presidents of Taiwan because they would damage ties with China, which claims Taiwan as its sovereign territory and seeks to restrict the self-ruled island's international space.
But Taiwan presidents normally take advantage of trips to diplomatic allies in Latin America to stop off in the United States, the island's main source of arms and political support.
Ma will spend Monday night in San Francisco and stay in Los Angeles on Jan. 28, holding private meetings, his spokesman said.
He has travelled to the United States twice already, so this kind of trip is common, said Ma's spokesman, Tony Wang. It's a very innocent stopover.
Ma will visit the Dominican Republic for a few hours on Jan. 28 to drop off supplies for neighbouring Haiti, a diplomatic ally hit by a quake on Jan. 12 that killed as many as 200,000.
Taiwan has diplomatic relations with only 23 mostly small, impoverished nations, compared with more than 170 that recognise China.
Previous U.S. visits by former Presidents Chen Shui-bian and Lee Teng-hui incensed China, which lambasted them for using their trips to support formal independence for Taiwan.
Ma's U.S. visits could also test Taiwan's recently improving relations with China, which has seen the start of direct flights and the signing of trade and tourism agreements.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself if attacked.
(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Alex Richardson)