Speaker Kevin McCarthy to meet Taiwan’s president in US to avoid China’s ire Two sides agree on California venue after Taipei raises concerns Tsai Ing-wen has decided to accept an invitation to speak at the Reagan Library in southern California, according to several people including a senior Taiwanese official
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen has convinced US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to meet in California rather than Taipei to avoid an aggressive Chinese military response, as tensions run high between Beijing and Washington. Several people familiar with the situation said Tsai and McCarthy had agreed to meet in the US because of Taiwanese security concerns. The California Republican had said last summer he wanted to visit the country if elected to the top leadership post in the House.
The venue change comes as the US steps up contingency planning for the region — one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints — and highlights the impact of China’s military posturing to constrain Taiwan and undermine its de facto independence. Washington has been rife with speculation about whether McCarthy would visit Taipei.
Advocates of a trip say senior US lawmakers should show support for the country in the face of rising Chinese aggression, while critics argue that high-profile visits provoke China without helping Taiwan. A senior Taiwanese official said Tsai’s administration had provided McCarthy’s team with “some intelligence about what the Chinese Communist party is recently up to and the kinds of threats they pose”. The official added that China was “not in a good situation”.
After McCarthy’s Democratic predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August — the first visit by a Speaker in 25 years — the People’s Liberation Army held huge military exercises, including firing ballistic missiles over the country for the first time. “There might be policies even more irrational than in the past emanating from Beijing,” the Taiwanese official added. “If we can try to control this together, the risks it brings for everybody can be contained better.”
US officials have recently played down suggestions of an imminent Chinese attack on Taiwan, but the Biden administration is stepping up contingency planning with allies. President Joe Biden has on four occasions over the past four years said the US would intervene if China launched an unprovoked attack on Taiwan.
Tsai will visit both California and New York in early April as part of a trip to Guatemala and Belize. She has also decided to accept an invitation to speak at the Reagan Library in southern California, according to several people familiar with the situation. The Taiwanese president, whose term ends in May, also visited the Reagan Library in 2018 and made remarks but not a formal speech. A second Taiwanese official said that after McCarthy expressed his view that Taiwan’s concerns about Beijing’s response were “reasonable”, Tsai’s team had said, “why don’t we take the opportunity of the stopover [in the US] to meet”. McCarthy’s office declined to comment.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute confirmed that it had invited Tsai to speak.
Liu Pengyu, the Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington, said China rejected all forms of official interaction between the US and Taiwan. “No matter [if] it is the Taiwan leaders coming to the United States or the US leaders visiting Taiwan, it could lead to another serious collision in the China-US relationship,” Liu said.
The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan as its territory although it has never ruled the island. Eric Sayers, an Asia expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said the best way for McCarthy to support Taiwan was to meet her in the US. “This will accomplish McCarthy’s objective of elevating the issue and demonstrating he is willing to meet her, but the nature of the meeting physically happening in the US instead of Taiwan will also make it more difficult for Beijing to respond in the same provocative way like they did after the Pelosi visit,” he said. Some observers believe another high-profile visit to the US by Tsai could invoke just as much Chinese retaliation as a McCarthy visit.
But Tsai’s aides argue that Taipei must not allow Chinese coercion to succeed. “We have a responsibility to our own people,” said one senior official. “The risk from Beijing is becoming greater by the day, but we have to manage this risk meticulously. Pushing the status quo backwards is not the way.” Recommended US-China relations White House to hold secret talks with Taiwan officials in Washington Another person familiar with the Tsai administration’s handling of the matter said renewed Chinese exercises around Taiwan could cause disruption to international shipping routes that would weigh on the global economy just as it emerges from the shadows of the pandemic.
Taiwanese defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng warned on Monday that the PLA was “looking for pretexts like foreign senior officials visiting or us conducting military exchanges with other countries” to take more assertive action. During the crisis last year, PLA ships and aircraft stopped short of entering Taiwan’s contiguous zone, a 24-nautical mile area off the coast. But Chiu said there was a significant risk they would stage “sudden incursions” into the zone, or even Taiwan’s sovereign waters or airspace, if given a pretext.
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