Greg Abbott gave gift to Taiwan president that can symbolize death

Update, 7:25 p.m.: A representative for Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has heard from the divisional director for Taiwan’s economic and cultural office in Houston, who says that no offense was taken by the gift, according to the governor’s office. They also indicated that the gift could communicate well wishes.

Earlier: If you thought the season for awkward gift exchanges had passed, perhaps reconsider.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen on Sunday, Jan. 8, in Houston. (Courtesy Office of Gov. Greg Abbott)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen on Sunday, Jan. 8, in Houston. (Courtesy Office of Gov. Greg Abbott)

On Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen in Houston. According to a news release from the governor’s office, the Taiwanese president gave Abbott a vase. Abbott presented Tsai with a clock bearing the Texas State Seal. That might not have been a masterstroke of diplomacy, a report from Taiwan News indicates:

“In Chinese culture the phrase ‘giving a clock’ ( 送鐘)  is a homophone with ‘attending a funeral,’ and therefore symbolizes an untimely demise for the recipient.”

Tsai did not appear fazed by the gift, according to Taiwan News.

Abbott is not the first dignitary to commit this particular cultural faux pas. A British transport minister gave a watch to Taipei’s mayor in 2015, according to multiple reports. Clocks and watches are listed as “death auguries” to avoid in at least one travel manual about Taiwan.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz also met with the Taiwanese president Sunday. In the news release, Abbott’s office said the representatives talked about energy, trade relations and commercial ties between Taiwan and Texas. On Monday, Chinese officials signaled their opposition to contact between U.S. and Taiwanese officials, according to ABC News.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Cruz joined Abbott for his meeting.

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