US house speaker Kevin McCarthy confirms he will meet Taiwan president in California | Taiwan

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen will meet with US House speaker Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday, the Republican’s office has confirmed, in defiance of warnings from Beijing that such a meeting would be a “provocation”.

Tsai is scheduled to make a stopover in California after state visits to Belize and Guatemala, Taiwan’s last remaining Central American diplomatic allies. McCarthy’s office said on Monday the “bipartisan” meeting would take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, outside Los Angeles.

In response, China’s LA consulate on Tuesday said that it “firmly opposed” Tsai’s US transits, and that the meeting was “not conducive to regional peace, security and stability”.

The meeting will “greatly hurt the national feelings of 1.4 billion Chinese people” and undermine “the political foundation of China-US relations,” a consulate spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson said China would “resolutely and vigorously defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

As speaker of the House of Representatives, McCarthy is the most senior Republican lawmaker and is second in line to the US presidency, after vice-president Kamala Harris.

McCarthy had previously voiced his intention to visit Taiwan, following the example of his House Speaker predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s visit in August last year prompted China’s military to encircle Taiwan’s main island with days of intense live-fire exercises.

A meeting with Tsai on US soil during her stopover in the country had been interpreted as an attempt to avoid a repeat of that situation, but Beijing has reacted with fury to the news, and promised to “resolutely fight back”.

Last week Xu Xueyuan, the charge d’affaires of China’s embassy to the US, told reporters that Washington risked “serious confrontation” no matter whether US leaders visited Taiwan or the reverse. The ministry of foreign affairs said such a meeting would be considered a “provocation”.

The US – which supports Taiwan’s defence but does not recognise it as a country – has said Tsai’s stopovers are normal and warned Beijing not to use it as a pretext for hostile behaviour.

On Friday 10 Chinese warplanes flew across the median line, the de facto border with China in the Taiwan Strait. On Monday another 10 planes made the crossing. Flights over the median line used to be rare but have become more frequent since the Pelosi visit.

Beijing claims Taiwan is a province of China, and has sworn to annex it under what it terms “reunification”. Tsai maintains Taiwan is a sovereign nation, and its future is for its people to decide. Polling released on Monday by Taiwan’s National Cultural Foundation Policy Center found that more than 60% of the country believes that Tsai’s visit will help improve Taiwan’s international status. More than half of respondents believed Beijing was undermining cross-strait peace, and 73% opposed Xi Jinping’s plan of “reunification”.

Beijing has not ruled out using force to achieve its aims, and in recent years has greatly increased military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan in an effort to encourage a peaceful surrender.

Since Tsai became president in 2016, nine diplomatic allies have cut ties with Taiwan in favour of China, which does not allow its allies to recognise both governments. The most recent switch came last month, with Honduras severing relations with Taiwan and signing on to Beijing’s claim that it is a part of the People’s Republic of China.

Tsai’s 10-day trip to Belize and Guatemala aimed to shore up relations with the two governments. On Monday Belize’s prime minister, John Briceno, reaffirmed his nation’s support for Taiwan.

“Belize welcomes you into our home with open arms,” Briceno told Tsai during a joint session of the national assembly in Belmopan, the capital of the small Central American country of 400,000 people.

Briceno ticked off some of Taipei’s largesse, thanking it for scholarships, farming programs and a $16.5m grant to build a hospital in the island town and popular tourist hub of San Pedro.

As Tsai listened, Briceno applauded a declaration lawmakers passed last month reaffirming Belize’s formal recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign and independent country.

In her remarks, Tsai spoke of “expansionist threats from authoritarian regimes”, adding that “the people of Taiwan face constant threats from the neighbour on the other side of the Taiwan Straits,” referring to China. Tsai thanked Belize for its diplomatic support amid “constant threats and pressure” from Beijing.

While in Guatemala, Tsai was accompanied by president Alejandro Giammattei on a visit to a hospital which Taiwan had helped finance. During a photocall with Tsai at a Maya civilisation citadel, Giammattei called Taiwan “the one and only true China”.

Beijing has sought to lure away Taiwan’s diplomatic allies – predominately through promises of investment, loans or aid, which Taiwan cannot match. However, retaining Belize and Guatemala as allies enables Taiwan’s leadership to make informal visits to the US.

“There is an instrumental value in Taiwan’s diplomatic relationships in enabling the president to travel internationally as a head of state, with ‘stop-overs’ being used to bend the rules by the US,” said Dr Mark Harrison, an expert on China and Taiwan from the University of Tasmania in Australia.

“Taiwan’s de facto independence can be seen in forms other than diplomatic relations, especially trade, but relations do confer legitimacy on Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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