WASHINGTON: The US State Department signalled Wednesday it would let Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen visit California to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, downplaying the significance in the face of protests by China.
McCarthy confirmed Tuesday that he would see Tsai in his home state, sidestepping a potential visit by the top Republican to Taiwan that policymakers there feared would send tensions soaring far higher with Beijing.
State Department spokesman Ned Price described Tsai’s expected travel as “transit” rather than a “visit” to the United States, which supports but does not recognize the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing.
“Transits of the United States by high-level Taiwan officials are consistent with longstanding US policy and with our unofficial and strong relations with Taiwan,” Price told reporters.
“That is nothing new. It is not something that would break any new ground. It is entirely consistent with the status quo,” Price said.
He said that Tsai has already transited through the United States six times since she was inaugurated in 2016.
But those trips were largely on the way to or from Taiwan’s dwindling number of allies in Latin America, not for high-profile talks in the United States.
In 1996, the State Department, under pressure from Congress, let Taiwan’s then-president Lee Teng-hui visit his alma mater Cornell University in New York, setting off a crisis in which China fired missiles into waters near the island.
China took similar action in August after a visit to Taiwan by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, in what some experts saw as a rehearsal for an invasion by a now more powerful Beijing.
China said Tuesday that it was “gravely concerned” by news of Tsai and McCarthy meeting and “firmly opposes” any official contact between the United States and Taiwan.
McCarthy insisted that meeting Tsai in California would not preclude a trip later to Taiwan, which enjoys wide bipartisan support in the US Congress.