US House speaker Kevin McCarthy stressed the urgency of arms deliveries to Taiwan in a meeting with its president, Tsai Ing-wen, that provoked an angry response from China.
Tsai praised the “strong and unique partnership” with the US, in the meeting on Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
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 reported by Xinhua news agency 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.
“The US side must stop its blatant interference in China’s internal affairs, and stop its official interaction with Taiwan,” it said.
China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, a position the government in Taipei strongly contests.
At the meeting in California, 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.
“We will honour our obligations and reiterate our commitment to our shared values behind which all Americans are united.”
Speaking at a later news conference alongside Republican and Democratic lawmakers who also took part in the meeting with Tsai, McCarthy said they had discussed the urgency weapons deliveries to Taiwan.
He said arms sales were a proven strategy to dissuade aggression.
“It is a critical lesson that we learned through Ukraine, that the idea of just sanctions in the future is not going to stop somebody” who wants to wage war, 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.”
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.
This time Tsai chose to meet the speaker in California in an attempt to reduce the impact. Nonetheless, Beijing called the meeting a “provocation” and threatened retaliation.
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”.
McCarthy declined to support any change in the US’s policy on China and Taiwan. 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, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had detected aircraft carriers near the main island’s south-east waters. But so far there have not been military actions on the scale of the drills in August.
Reuters contributed to this report
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