As U.S-China relations reach their lowest point in a decade, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who’s on her way to Central America, has stopped in New York to reportedly meet with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. According to Reuters, before departing Taiwan, Tsai said that she will not succumb to external pressure and would not deter Taiwan from engaging with the world. She flew into New York on March 29 and was greeted by a crowd of protesters and supporters outside her hotel. Tsai will continue onto Central America, where she will meet with leaders of Guatemala and Belize, two of the few countries that recognize Taiwan diplomatically.
Taiwan President’s visit comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement in March at the meeting of China’s parliament and top political advisory body, where he referred to China’s capability for “war readiness” and also insisted his generals “dare to fight.” China’s defense budget, which has doubled over the last decade, was also announced by the government, citing an increase of 7.2%.
China has already vowed to retaliate if Tsai and McCarthy meet and condemned the United States for arranging the Taiwanese President’s transit through the United States. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on March 30, “We firmly oppose any visit by a leader of the Taiwan region to the U.S., and we firmly oppose the US government having any form of official contact with the Taiwan region.” Mao went on to blame Washington and Taiwan for the ”new round of tensions in the Taiwan Strait due to repeated attempts by Taiwan authorities’ to solicit U.S. support for Taiwan independence.’’ He said that the visit violates the “One China Principle,” whereby China insists Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory to be reunited one day.
Xu Xueyuan, the Charge d’Affaires at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on March 29 that she spoke directly to U.S. officials numerous times and warned them that Tsai’s trip would violate China’s core interests. She said, “We urge the U.S. to not repeat playing with fire on the Taiwan question.’’ Referring to last year’s visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she added, ”Taiwan leaders coming to the United States or the U.S. leaders visiting Taiwan could lead to another serious, serious, serious confrontation in the China-US relationship.”
On the other hand, the United States sees Tsai’s visit as a “normal, uneventful transit.” White House’s security spokesperson, John Kirby said in a press briefing on March 30, “This is a common occurrence…Other presidents of Taiwan have transited the United States. Nothing unusual about this. Tsai’s transit in the U.S. should not be used as a pretext to step up any activity around the Taiwan strait.” This is Tsai’s seventh transit through the U.S. during her time as Taiwan’s leader and will be the 29th U.S. transit by a sitting president in Taiwan since the first in 1994.
If Tsai meets McCarthy, it would be the first meeting on U.S. soil between a House Speaker and a Taiwanese leader, an idea that angers China. Reuters quoted sources who said around 20 U.S. lawmakers planned to accompany McCarthy to his meeting. The possible meeting would come at a time when Beijing is focused on bolstering its military prowess. In recent months, Beijing has unveiled new military readiness laws, new air-raid shelters in cities across the strait from Taiwan, and new “National Defense Mobilization” offices countrywide.
Latin America is considered to be the latest flashpoint between Taiwan and China as the former accused China of “luring away its allies through coercion and intimidation” after Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Reina and his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang officially launched relations in Beijing last week, breaking ties with Taiwan.