Pro- and anti-Taiwan protesters gathered at Los Angeles airport for the arrival of Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, before a meeting scheduled for Wednesday with the US House speaker, Kevin McCarthy.
Protesters also crowded outside Tsai’s LA hotel on Tuesday evening, banging drums, chanting and holding Taiwanese flags and photos of the president, who shook hands with supporters as she entered. A smaller, pro-Beijing group gathered nearby on the pavement, separated by a police line, at times chanting “One China”.
Tsai is travelling through the US on her way home from a state visit to two of Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies, Guatemala and Honduras. She will talk to McCarthy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, just outside LA, in a closed-door meeting, before making public statements. Security preparations at the venue began days ago, according to media travelling with Tsai.
The meeting has prompted an angry reaction from Beijing, which has called it a “provocation” and threatened retaliation. On Wednesday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had detected a Chinese carrier group moving into waters south-east of the main island.
Neither Taiwan nor the US has backed off from the meeting. Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs this week said Beijing’s objections were “increasingly absurd and unreasonable”, while the US warned Beijing not to use the “normal” visit as a pretext for hostile action.
The White House spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters on Tuesday that Tsai’s transit was “private” and “unofficial”.
“President Tsai herself has made this transit about six times before, and again there should be no reason for China to overreact,” she said.
Beijing claims Taiwan is a province of China, which it has not ruled out using force to annex, and has accused Tsai and her government of being separatists. Tsai says Taiwan, which is an independently functioning democracy, is already a sovereign nation and its future is up to its people to decide.
Last year, a visit by the then speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan prompted Beijing to surround the main island with days of live-fire military exercises. McCarthy had expressed a wish to also visit Taiwan, and the Wednesday meeting in LA instead of Taiwan is understood to be an attempt by Tsai to reduce the impact.
It is not clear what, if any, action Beijing intends to take in response to the meeting. Before Tsai’s 10-day trip began, defence authorities in Taiwan said they had not noticed any escalated Chinese military activity.
On Wednesday, the Fujian maritime safety administration announced a joint sea patrol of the central and northern parts of the Taiwan Strait. The administration provided few details but said it was a special “patrol and inspection operation” led by its largest and most advanced maritime patrol ship, the Haixun 06. It was not clear if it was linked to the Tsai meeting.
Later, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had spotted a Chinese aircraft carrier group passing off the island’s south-east coast. The ministry said the group, led by the Shandong, was travelling through the Bashi Channel separating Taiwan from the Philippines. It said the ships were going for training in the western Pacific, and that Taiwanese military was closely monitoring them.
“The Chinese communists continue to send aircraft and ships to encroach in the seas and airspace around Taiwan,” the ministry said.
“In addition to posing a substantial threat to our national security, it also destroys the status quo of regional security and stability. Such actions are by no means the acts of a responsible modern country.”
Chinese sorties into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone continued this week, with some sizeable groups of warplanes crossing the median line – a de facto border in the Taiwan Strait.
On Tuesday, Tsai met senior US security officials in a video call from Belize, to discuss the “regional situation” before her trip. She “expressed her gratitude” to colleagues who were sticking to their posts to ensure national security during a long weekend holiday this week, her office said.
Tsai is expected to leave LA on Friday for Taiwan. Her 10-day trip included an initial US stopover in New York, where she met the House Democrats leader, Hakeem Jeffries, before going to Belize and Guatemala to reaffirm diplomatic relations with the governments there. The two countries are Taiwan’s last remaining formal allies in Central America, after Honduras cut ties on the eve of Tsai’s trip.
There are only 13 countries that recognise the sovereignty of the Republic of China – Taiwan’s formal name. Nine have switched to Beijing, which does not allow countries to recognise both governments and seeks to lure away all those who choose Taiwan.
Chi Hui Lin and agencies contributed to this report
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