Taiwan leader's Central American trip set to anger China
Taiwan's leader vowed to bolster her island's presence on the international stage as she set off to visit four Central American allies on a trip that includes US transits and looks set to annoy China.
President Tsai Ing-wen said the visits to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador would "show the international society that Taiwan is a capable and responsible partner for co-operation".
She will transit through Houston and San Francisco, stops that will probably irritate Beijing, which has urged Washington to prevent the self-ruled island's leader from stopping in the US and "refrain from sending any wrong signal to the Taiwanese independence forces".
Beijing regards the self-governing island as part of China and officials complained after President-elect Donald Trump last month breached diplomatic protocol by speaking by phone with the Taiwanese leader.
Mr Trump raised further concerns in Beijing when he questioned a US policy that since 1979 has recognised Beijing as China's government and maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan.
It was not clear if Ms Tsai would meet President-elect Donald Trump or anyone from his transition team, though analysts say she is likely to meet US politicians.
US politicians often meet Taiwanese presidents when they transit through the US - most recently in June, when Ms Tsai held talks in Miami with Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Ms Tsai's visit comes as Beijing has ratcheted up efforts to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, intervening to prevent the island's participation in international forums and establishing diplomatic relations with its former allies Gambia and Sao Tome and Principe.
The moves have been seen as effectively abandoning the unspoken diplomatic truce that lasted eight years under Ms Tsai's China-friendly predecessor.
Before boarding her flight on Saturday, Ms Tsai said the visits to the Central American countries were also aimed at strengthening economic and trade relations with the allies to produce "concrete results" benefiting both sides.
Ms Tsai, who is leading a delegation of 120 people, will attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.