In a remarkable display of solidarity and support for Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted her at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, despite the potential for backlash from China.
The meeting, which was attended by members of both parties, signaled a rare high-level bipartisan effort to showcase the United States’ support for Taiwan’s self-rule.
Both leaders were careful not to agitate China unnecessarily, sidestepping calls from some hard-liners in the US for a more aggressive approach toward Beijing.
Instead, they emphasized the longstanding US policy of maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan while acknowledging China’s threats against the island government.
McCarthy emphasized the importance of bipartisan unity, stressing that this meeting was not about any political party but rather about the strong relationship between the US and Taiwan.
He also evoked Reagan’s philosophy of peace through strength in foreign relations.
The House Speaker affirmed that America’s support for the Taiwanese people is steadfast, unwavering, and bipartisan. According to him, US-Taiwan ties are stronger now than at any other point in his life.
He and Tsai held a press conference with Air Force One of Reagan serving as the background. Tsai expressed her gratitude for the unwavering support of the United States, which reassures the people of Taiwan that they are not isolated.
However, the formal nature of the meeting and the presence of high-ranking officials from the Congress delegation could be seen as a challenge to China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.
Over a dozen lawmakers from both parties, including the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the House, joined McCarthy for a full-day discussion.
During a private session, they discussed Taiwan’s self-defense, promoting trade and economic ties, and supporting the island’s participation in the international community. However, they did not mention the calls from hard-liners in and out of Congress for increased U.S. defense commitments if China attacked Taiwan.
Tsai emphasized Taiwan’s commitment to defending the peaceful status quo, which allows the Taiwanese people to thrive in a free and open society. She also warned that the peace and democracy that Taiwan has worked hard to build are facing unprecedented challenges.
In a statement, it was mentioned that democracy is under threat and it is crucial to maintain the beacon of freedom.
The United States cut off official relations with Taiwan in 1979 when it established diplomatic ties with Beijing. The United States follows a “one-China” policy where Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan, but it does not support China’s claim and is a significant provider of military and defense aid to Taiwan.
For Tsai, this stop was the most delicate part of her weeklong trip to strengthen alliances with the U.S. and Central America.
The U.S. House Speaker is second in line of succession to the President, and no Speaker has been known to meet with a Taiwan President on U.S. soil since formal diplomatic relations were broken off.
In the past, China has responded to visits by Taiwanese Presidents to the U.S. and senior U.S. officials’ visits to Taiwan with military displays of force.
After then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August, China carried out its largest live-fire drills in decades, including launching a missile over the island.
Chinese officials have promised to take decisive but unspecified action in response to the meeting with McCarthy.
On Wednesday, China stated that it “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” Tsai’s visit, according to a release from China’s national Xinhua News Agency under the name of Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson.
The release added that China will take “resolute and forceful measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and urged the U.S. “not to walk further down the wrong and dangerous road.”
On Wednesday morning, state media announced that Chinese vessels had initiated a joint patrol and inspection operation in the central and northern waters of the Taiwan Strait.
Later that evening, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense reported that it had tracked the Chinese Army’s Shandong aircraft carrier passing through the Bashi Strait to Taiwan’s southeast.
This latest development comes as China, the U.S., and their allies continue to strengthen their military positions and readiness for any potential confrontation, with Taiwan and its claim to sovereignty being a major point of contention.
The Biden administration has stated that there is nothing provocative about Taiwan President Tsai’s visit, which marks the latest of a half-dozen visits to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday during travel in Europe that “Beijing should not use the transits as an excuse to take any actions, to ratchet up tensions, to further push at changing the status quo.”
The U.S. and China, a rising power seeking to assert its influence abroad under President Xi Jinping, have experienced surges of confrontation with Pelosi’s visit and the cross-U.S. journey of what the U.S. says was a Chinese spy balloon.
Democratic Rep. Pelosi has commended the meeting between President Tsai of Taiwan and Speaker McCarthy, stating that it showed leadership, bipartisan participation, and a distinguished and historic venue.
Although Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war and have no official relations, they are linked by billions of dollars in trade and investment.
Taiwanese officials in the United States, along with Taiwanese presidents on successive visits, aim to maintain warm relations with their powerful American allies without overstepping their in-between status in the U.S. or unnecessarily provoking China.
No Taiwanese flag flies over the former Taiwan Embassy in Washington, and Taiwanese presidents refer to their stops in the U.S. as “transits” rather than visits and steer clear of Washington.
For the meeting with McCarthy, the newly elected House speaker, were the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on a new House Select Committee on China, along with the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax policy important to Taiwan, among others.
The third-ranking House Democrat, Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, also attended the meeting and spoke of the long history of U.S.-Taiwan cooperation and the “overwhelming bipartisan commitment” in Congress, working with the Biden administration, to strengthen the relationship.