Taiwan president reviews troops ahead of sensitive U.S. visit

CHIAYI, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited army engineers on Saturday and reviewed their training, saying that defending democracy is the armed forces’ “great” mission, ahead of a trip next week to the United States and Central America.

China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up its military and political pressure over the past three years or so to try and force the island to accept Chinese sovereignty, viewing Tsai as a separatist.

She is making a high-profile and sensitive trip to the United States and Central America starting on Wednesday. China has condemned the United States for allowing her to go, though her visit there is technically only a transit.

At the end of the trip, Tsai is expected to meet U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles.

China staged war games near Taiwan in August after then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.

Visiting an army base in Chiayi in southern Taiwan, Tsai reviewed their training, seeing them erect anti-tank barriers and practice martial arts.

“Protecting Taiwan and defending democracy has always been our military’s great mission,” she told the soldiers, accompanied by Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng and National Security Council Secretary-General Wellington Koo.

“I believe that only by continuously training and strengthening the military’s war preparedness can we be even more able to protect our home and defend our country,” Tsai added.

Tsai has repeatedly offered talks with China, but says Taiwan will defend itself if attacked and that only the island’s people can decide their future.

(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher and Carlos Garcia Rawlins; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates)