Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy welcomed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to a high-level meeting on American soil as a “great friend of America” Wednesday in a show of U.S. support amid threats from China.
Over a dozen Republican and Democrat lawmakers, including the House’s third-ranking Democrat, joined GOP leader McCarthy for the talks at southern California’s Ronald Reagan Presidential Library amid rising tensions between China and the U.S.
Members of Congress rose to their feet to greet the leader of Taiwan at a long, bouquet-laden table. The senior ranks of some of the elected officials in attendance threatened to anger Beijing further after it made clear that any interaction between Taiwanese and U.S. officials would be considered a challenge to China’s claim of sovereignty over the island.
Speaker McCarthy said he wanted the president of Taiwan to see that “this is a bipartisan meeting of members of Congress,” not any particular political party.
“We will continue to find ways for the people of America and Taiwan to work together to promote economic freedom, democracy, peace, and stability in Asia,” said the House speaker.
The U.S. broke off official ties with Taiwan in 1979 when it formally established diplomatic relations with the government in Beijing. The United States acknowledges a “one-China” policy in which China lays claim to Taiwan; however, it doesn’t endorse China’s claim to the island and remains the critical provider of defense and military assistance to Taiwan.
China has reacted to previous trips with shows of military force
China has reacted to past trips by presidents of Taiwan through the United States and past trips by American officials to Taiwan with shows of military force.
When then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August, the Chinese responded with its largest live-fire drills in several decades, including firing a missile over Taiwan.
Beijing has pledged a significant but unspecified response to the meeting with Speaker McCarthy. There was no immediate reaction from China Wednesday, which is a holiday.
However, state media announced Wednesday morning that Chinese vessels began a joint inspection and patrol operation in the northern waters of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said on Wednesday that it had also tracked the Chinese Army’s Shandong aircraft carrier as it passed through the Bashi Strait to the southeast of Taiwan.
China’s “deliberate action has jeopardized regional stability and caused tension in Taiwan Strait,” said Taiwan’s defense ministry. “However, external pressures will not hinder our determination to move toward the world and defend our country.”
The Biden administration insists Tsai’s visit is not provocative.
“The first thing to emphasize is that these transits by high-level Taiwanese authorities are nothing new,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken to reporters on Wednesday during travel in Europe. “They are private, they are unofficial, but they are nothing new.”
“Given 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,” said Blinken.
“There’s no reason for the Chinese to overact in any way,” said John Kirby, National Security Council spokesman on Wednesday. “We’ll watch this as closely as we can.”