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Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. In response, on Thursday, China promised “determined and effective measures to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”. A few hours later, Taiwan announced that it had detected three Chinese warships and a helicopter.
“We are not isolated”: Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen welcomed on Wednesday April 5 the presence of a large delegation from the American Congress during her trip to California, proof according to her of Washington’s “unwavering” support for Beijing .
The 66-year-old leader met Republican Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, despite repeated threats of retaliation from China in recent weeks.
On Thursday, Beijing reacted strongly. “In response to the grossly wrong acts of collusion between the United States and Taiwan, China will take resolute and effective measures to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement released by the New China agency. The ministry urged Washington to “stop going down the wrong and dangerous path.”
Hours later, Taiwan announced that it had detected three Chinese warships and a Chinese anti-submarine helicopter near the island. “One People’s Liberation Army aircraft and three People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels were detected at 6 a.m. local time,” Taiwan’s Defense Minister said in a statement. “The armed forces have been monitoring the situation and tasked combat air patrol aircraft, navy ships and land-based missile systems to respond to these activities,” he added.
Beijing launched unprecedented military maneuvers around Taiwan last August, when Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy’s roost predecessor, visited Taiwan. This time, China blamed the United States for “playing with fire”.
In this context, Kevin McCarthy adopted a cautious tone. He assured that the relationship between Taipei and Washington was “stronger” than it had ever been “in his lifetime”. The elected representative of California was surrounded by a large group of parliamentarians, Republicans and Democrats, at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, near Los Angeles.
“Their presence and their unwavering support reassure the Taiwanese people: we are not isolated, we are not alone”, applauded the Taiwanese president, from a party that traditionally campaigns for independence – an absolute red line for Beijing .
China considers that the democratic and autonomous island of Taiwan is one of its provinces to be taken back, favoring “peaceful reunification”, but without excluding the use of force.
In the name of its “one China” principle, no country is supposed to maintain official ties with Beijing and Taipei at the same time. Only 13 states still recognize Taiwan, including Belize and Guatemala, Central American countries that Tsai Ing-Wen visited during his tour to cement the relationship with his few official allies, after a first stop in New York.
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But the United States has long maintained a “strategic ambiguity” on the Taiwan question. Washington has recognized Beijing since 1979, but remains Taiwan’s strongest ally and main arms supplier. Support for the island is one of the few points of consensus between the two parties in the US Congress. Under Tsai Ing-wen’s tenure, Taiwan moved closer to the United States.
A state of affairs that Kevin McCarthy has endeavored to recall with great fanfare of symbols in front of an old version of Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One presidential plane. “The friendship between the people of Taiwan and the United States is of great importance to the free world and is essential to maintaining economic freedom, peace and regional stability,” he said.
The new Speaker of the House of Representatives, who initially wanted to visit Taiwan, made no direct reference to China or its President Xi Jinping – nor did Tsai Ing-wen. What contrast with the frontal attitude of Nancy Pelosi when she held the position. After her visit to Taiwan and Beijing’s show of force that followed – the Chinese army had fired several ballistic missiles into the island’s waters – the Democratic leader assured: “We will not allow them to ‘isolate Taiwan’.