Taiwan President Ma leaves on 12-day trip to Latin America, Caribbean

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou embarked on a 12-day state visit to Latin American and the Caribbean on Sunday, giving him a breather from various political controversies at home.

Speaking at Taoyuan International Airport before his departure, Ma touted his foreign policy, saying it not only stops both sides of the Taiwan Strait from wasting resources on poaching each other's diplomatic allies, but also consolidates bilateral relations with countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and those who do not.

Ma will make a transit stop in New York en route to Paraguay, where he will attend the inauguration of Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes on Thursday.

During his brief stay in New York, Ma is scheduled to meet with U.S. congressmen. He will also visit Ground Zero of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the World Trade Center and his alma mater, New York University.

He will also visit Haiti and three of the island's diplomatic allies in the Caribbean, namely, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Ma is scheduled to return to Taiwan on Aug. 22.

The overseas trip comes amid various political controversies at home. Among them is the death of a young army soldier last month.

The 24-year-old army conscript died on July 4 of heatstroke following severe punishment for carrying a camera-equipped phone to his base.

His death forced the resignations of the defense minister and an army general.

Despite Ma's apology, the incident triggered nationwide condemnation and two demonstrations in Taipei demanding truth and justice.

Former Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman Tsai Yig-wen has urged Ma to cancel the overseas trip and call a national affairs conference with political leaders and civic groups.

The Presidential Office said the president will be happy to meet with Tsai after returning from the trip and that he will spend time thinking about details of their meeting while he is abroad, including whether to call a national affairs conference.