The Chinese government has threatened retaliation if Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, meets the US House speaker this week, and urged the US not to let her transit through the country, saying it would be a “provocation”.
Tsai departs on Wednesday afternoon for a 10-day trip to visit Central American allies, Belize and Guatemala. The trip includes two stopovers, in New York on the way in, and Los Angeles on the way out. Tsai is expected to meet with the speaker, Kevin McCarthy in California, but there hasn’t been official confirmation.
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Just hours before Tsai was due to leave Taipei, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a warning against the trip.
“If she contacts US House speaker McCarthy, it will be another provocation that seriously violates the one-China principle, harms China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and destroys peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Zhu Fenglian, the office’s spokesperson told a news conference.
“We firmly oppose this and will definitely take measures to resolutely fight back.”
The one-China principle is a domestic Chinese edict which makes clear the government’s claim over Taiwan.
Beijing intends to annex Taiwan under what it terms “reunification”. Taiwan’s democratically elected government and a large majority of its people reject the prospect of Chinese rule.
The US does not recognise Taiwan as a country but is a strong supporter of its efforts to resist Beijing’s increasing efforts at military intimidation and diplomatic coercion.
The US government had said Tsai’s stopover – her sixth through the US since becoming president in 2016 – was “normal” and warned Beijing not to use it as a pretext for aggressive behaviour. In August last year, in response to a visit to Taipei by then US speaker Nancy Pelosi, China’s People’s Liberation Army surrounded Taiwan’s main island with days of live-fire drills, disrupting sea and air traffic.
Pelosi’s successor, Republican Kevin McCarthy, had said he would like to visit Taiwan, but a meeting with Tsai in California has been interpreted by observers as an attempt to avoid a repeat of the Pelosi visit.
A US official said that a McCarthy meeting with Tsai would not signal any escalation from the US side.
“Members of Congress have met with the Taiwan president on nearly every transit” by Taiwanese leaders in the past, the official said.