China, which claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its own and views it as a wayward province, had called on the United States not to allow Tsai to transit there on her overseas tour.
Tsai is spending four nights in the United States – two on the first leg and two on the way back from a visit to four Caribbean allies. She began her trip in New York and is expected to stop in Denver on her way back.
Shortly before Tsai was due to arrive at her Manhattan hotel, a Reuters photographer witnessed a brawl at the hotel’s entrance between dozens of pro-China and pro-Taiwan protesters, which was eventually broken up by police.
The New York Police Department was not immediately able to comment on whether there had been any arrests.
Tsai was last in the United States in March, but her stops this time will be unusually long, as normally she spends just a night at a time in transit.
The U.S. State Department has said there had been no change in the U.S. “one-China” policy, under which Washington officially recognizes Beijing and not Taipei, while assisting Taiwan.
However, analysts said the extended stopovers served to emphasize the Trump administration’s support for Tsai at a time when she has been coming under increasing pressure from Beijing, a major U.S. security rival with which Washington has been engaged in a year-long trade war.
Speaking before departure at Taipei’s main international airport at Taoyuan, Tsai said she would share the values of freedom and transparency with Taiwan’s allies, and was looking forward to finding more international space for Taiwan.
Taiwan has been trying to shore up its diplomatic alliances amid pressure from China. Taipei now counts only 17 countries as diplomatic allies, almost all small Central American, Caribbean or Pacific nations.
In New York, Tsai will meet with members of the Taiwanese community and U.N. ambassadors of allied countries.
(Production by: Roselle Chen, Dan Fastenberg, Soren Larson and Catherine Koppel.)