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McCarthy meets with Tsai, backs Taiwan amid growing tensions with China


SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — President Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday became the highest elected official to meet with a Taiwanese president on U.S. soil since Washington established diplomatic ties with Beijing, in an orchestrated meeting to signal solidarity with the island amid rising tensions with China.

The rally at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is something of a throwback to Mr McCarthy, who promised during the midterm elections that if elected president he would travel to Taiwan to meet President Tsai Ing -wen in a demonstration of defiance. in China. Mr. McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi of California, did so last year when she was Speaker of the House.

Instead, Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Tsai opted for a meeting in the United States which was seen as the least risky option for Washington and Taipei. Leaders in both capitals are trying to balance a desire to strengthen Taiwan’s ties with the United States, its most powerful partner, and an interest in avoiding moves that could lead to aggressive military encroachment from Beijing.

China has so far not announced major military exercises around Taiwan and may want to avoid a repeat of the crisis following Ms Pelosi’s visit, when Beijing canceled several diplomatic, military and climate policy engagements with the United States and held days of military exercises in seven live-fire areas around Taiwan.

Yet Mr McCarthy, who has frequently accused President Biden of being insufficiently tough on China, is also eager to demonstrate how forceful he is willing to be to challenge Beijing. His decision to meet the Taiwanese president so early in his term could further escalate tensions with China, where leaders view such high-level meetings – wherever they occur – as an affront to their claim to the island. .

“China must prevent this from becoming a routine or annual meeting between the president of Taiwan and the speaker of the House,” said Bonny Lin, former director of China and Taiwan policy at the Pentagon, who heads the China Power Project. In the center. for security and international studies. “No matter what floor it’s on, it’s always a meeting with the Speaker of the House, and in person.”

Washington transferred diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China in 1979, and since then Beijing has opposed meetings between senior US and Taiwanese officials or politicians as acts of provocation. Beijing treats Taiwan as an illegitimate escape that must be reclaimed. The US president and other top officials do not meet with Taiwan leaders, but lower-level contacts have developed under the Trump and Biden administrations, angering Beijing.

Although Taiwanese presidents have regularly transited through the United States and rank-and-file members of Congress have visited Taiwan regularly over the past few decades, the pace of congressional travel has picked up since last year, as that lawmakers rush to show solidarity and pledge to deepen cooperation. with Taiwan, arming it against a potential war with China.

When meeting with Ms. Tsai, Mr. McCarthy is expected to be accompanied by a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers from a new House committee designed in part to examine the activities of the Chinese Communist Party. Members of this panel plan to spend the rest of the week meeting with executives from technology and film companies to discuss Chinese censorship, the risks posed by artificial intelligence and other issues important to these industries.

Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican of Texas and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to lead another bipartisan delegation of lawmakers to Taiwan this week that is expected to meet with Ms. Tsai on Saturday, according to two people familiar with their itinerary.

Ms Tsai’s attempt to keep a relatively low profile during her latest tour of the United States and Central America signaled a desire to avoid giving Beijing an excuse to stage a display of military power similar to the one that followed. Mrs. Pelosi’s visit. During layovers in New York and California – flying to and from Central America – Ms Tsai avoided opportunities to deliver major political speeches, meet officials like Mr McCarthy behind closed doors and keep secret a session last week with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. , the Democratic leader.

Yet his visit was not entirely without incident. On Wednesday, Chinese maritime authorities announced patrols in two areas east of Taiwan, but there were no indications that warships were involved.

The Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei, which handles relations with China, denounced the patrols, saying they could interfere with shipping. Taiwan’s defense ministry also said it spotted a Chinese navy ship crossing the Bashi Channel, which lies between Taiwan and the Philippines.

Chinese officials said they would monitor Ms Tsai’s meeting with Mr McCarthy and threatened retaliation. Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters on Tuesday that Beijing would “resolutely and vigorously uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” A statement released by the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles called Mr McCarthy’s meeting with Ms Tsai a “serious violation of the one China principle”.

Beijing demands that all countries accept its one-China principle, which dictates that Taiwan is part of its territory. Instead, Washington maintains a one-China policy, which recognizes Beijing’s claim without endorsing it.

Ms Tsai’s visit comes amid an intense debate in Washington over how to step up aid for arms shipments to the island and whether the United States should pledge to help. Taiwan in the event of an attack from China. Last year, acting with bipartisan support, Congress authorized a five-year pilot program to provide Taiwan with up to $2 billion for military training and arms procurement and $1 billion per year in presidential withdrawal authority as a demonstration of US commitment to act on statutory requirements ordering Washington to help Taiwan maintain its defenses.

But the $2 billion a year program was never funded as planned. Lawmakers who scrambled at the end of the year to piece together a spending package ended up replacing it with loan guarantees that cash-rich Taiwan is generally supposed not to use. The end result was that the United States projected a weaker-than-expected solidarity signal, putting more pressure on Congress to restore balance this year and stoking Republican anger.

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for refusing to state unequivocally that the United States will militarily defend Taiwan if Beijing tries to invade. Since taking office, Mr Biden has embraced this position three times, only to have his aides take it over.

Several lawmakers from both parties have speculated that any success Russia has in invading Ukraine will encourage China to attempt a similar land grab in Taiwan.

Ms Tsai’s tour of the United States also comes as the island prepares for presidential elections to choose her successor, as term limits prevent her from running again. The January contest is expected to pit Ms Tsai’s successor in the Democratic Progressive Party, which has positioned itself as the guardian of Taiwanese autonomy, against a candidate from the opposition Nationalist Party, which advocates close ties with China. .

Experts say the race could be heavily influenced by actions taken by Washington and Beijing in the coming months, including whether China responds militarily to this week’s meeting.

“The problem is that Beijing loses anyway,” said Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia program and director of the China program at the Stimson Center. “If they overreact, they will lose because the United States will give more support to Taiwan, and Taiwanese public opinion will be even more against reunification. But if they don’t react, it will be perceived as acquiescence.

nytimes Gt

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