Taiwan authorities are monitoring Chinese military activity including a carrier strike group about 200 nautical miles (370km) off the main island’s coastline, after the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, met US House speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles.
In the meeting, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, McCarthy stressed the urgency of arms deliveries to Taiwan, while Tsai praised the “strong and unique partnership” with the US..
Taiwan’s defence minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, said on Thursday that the island’s military was studying the carrier group, led by the Shandong aircraft carrier. Chiu said the group – a fleet of navy vessels led by an aircraft carrier – appeared to be on a training exercise and no planes had been detected taking off from the ship, but the timing was “sensitive”. He later confirmed that the US aircraft carrier Nimitz, which had been participating in joint drills with Japan and Korea in the East China Sea this week, was also in the same area as the Shandong on Thursday.
The carrier group was sent to waters south-east of Taiwan’s main island on Wednesday, shortly before Tsai and McCarthy met in Los Angeles.
Japan’s defence ministry confirmed it was also monitoring the strike group, which it detected 300km from Okinawa on Wednesday evening. The ministry said the Shandong was accompanied by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) frigate Liuzhou and a fast combat support ship as it travelled east towards the Philippines Sea, entering the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
Separately, Japan said a PLAN guided-missile destroyer had been detected sailing between Taiwan and the Japanese island of Yonaguni, about 100km off Taiwan’s coast on Tuesday. Taiwan’s defence ministry would not confirm or comment on the detection.
Taiwan’s defence ministry also reported three additional PLAN vessels and one anti-submarine helicopter operating near Taiwan in the 24 hours to Thursday morning.
Chiu said a separate patrol of the Taiwan Strait announced by Chinese maritime authorities on Wednesday was not a military exercise, but appeared to be Beijing attempting to set a “new normal” in terms of enforcing their domestic law in wider maritime spaces. China’s coastguard, which comes under the command of the central military commission, claims authority to stop and inspect vessels in the area under a controversial 2021 law, though it is not believed to have done so before. The Taiwan defence ministry has instructed Taiwanese vessels, including cargo and ferry services, to not cooperate with attempts by this patrol to board and inspect them.
Beijing has reacted angrily to the meeting between Taiwan’s leader and McCarthy, who is the second in line to the US presidency, accusing the pair of undermining its claim over Taiwan, conniving on “separatist” aims, and degrading China-US relations.
McCarthy, a Republican who became the most senior figure to meet a Taiwanese leader on American soil in decades, was joined by a bipartisan group of US politicians who voiced support for dialogue with Taiwan amid simmering tensions with China.
“We must continue the arms sales to Taiwan and make sure such sales reach Taiwan on a very timely basis,” McCarthy said at a news conference after the meeting, adding that he believed there was bipartisan agreement on this. “Second, we must strengthen our economic cooperation, particularly with trade and technology.”
Beijing quickly denounced the meeting. Its foreign ministry said in statement that China will take “resolute and effective measures to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
A China defence ministry spokesperson called on the US to “stop its blatant interference in China’s internal affairs”.
“We firmly oppose all forms of official interaction between the United States and Taiwan and any visit by leader of the Taiwan authorities to the United States in any name or under whatever pretext,” it said in a statement.
China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, a position the government in Taipei strongly contests. Tsai says they are already a sovereign nation, and Taiwan’s future is for its people to decide.
It is the second time Tsai has met the holder of the high-ranking office in less than a year, having welcomed McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan in August. That visit, which took place on what China considers to be sovereign soil, provoked a stronger reaction from Beijing, including days of live-fire military exercises around Taiwan.
So far, the reaction to the California meeting is far more muted. It is understood the McCarthy meeting was held on US soil instead of in Taiwan as McCarthy originally wanted, at least in part to reduce its provocativeness. On Thursday, Taiwan’s national security chief also noted the presidents of France and the European Union were currently visiting China, and “China must practice peaceful diplomacy”.
McCarthy told Tsai a shared belief in democracy and freedom formed “the bedrock” of their enduring relationship.
“The friendship between the people of Taiwan and America is a matter of profound importance to the free world, and it is critical to maintain economic freedom peace and regional stability,” he said.
While stressing that there was no need for retaliation from China after the meeting, McCarthy also said he looked forward to, “more meeting like this in the future”.
Republican Mike Gallagher, chair of the House Chinese Communist party committee, responded to China’s objections to the meeting, saying: “If the duly elected leader of one of our most important democratic partners can’t meet with American leaders on American soil, then we are merely feeding the crocodile that will eventually eat us.”
Tsai’s US stops have been attended by crowds of pro- and anti-Taiwan protesters. The opposing groups scuffled outside the Ronald Reagan library, and were separated by police. Wednesday’s meeting was also attended by more than a dozen Democratic and Republican lawmakers, highlighting the bipartisan consensus in Congress when it comes to supporting Taiwan.
Tsai thanked them for their “unwavering support”, which she said “reassures the people of Taiwan that we are not isolated and we are not alone”.
Since 1979, the US has officially recognised the People’s Republic of China as the sole government of the “one China” that is mainland China and Taiwan. But the US also sells arms to Taiwan to deter any military advances from Beijing, something that McCarthy said should continue.
He drew an explicit comparison between Hong Kong and Taiwan, saying that when China “reneged” on its promise to allow Hong Kong autonomy for 50 years after the handover to Chinese rule, “that harmed [Beijing’s reputation] around the world”.
Michael Swaine, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a thinktank, warned that the meeting could accelerate the downward spiral of US-China relations. He warned that it could trigger a “show of resolve” from Beijing, which could itself “drive Washington to move even closer to Taiwan in order to demonstrate its own resolve”.
On Wednesday the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told Euronews that a move by China to annex Taiwan would have far reaching repercussions “for quite literally every country on Earth”.
Chi Hui Lin and Reuters contributed to this report
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