Taiwan working on ‘itinerary’; McCarthy confirms Tsai meeting

It has become easier for Taiwanese officials to meet US politicians, even though such meetings upset Beijing.

People in Taipei walk past a hoarding of a large Taiwan flag.
Taiwan's President may stop over in California on her way to visit diplomatic allies in Central America [Ann Wang/Reuters]

US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has said he will meet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in the United States this year, as the presidential office said work was under way on the “transit” plans for an overseas visit.

McCarthy confirmed his intent to meet Tsai while speaking to reporters on Tuesday night, but he also stressed that his decision was not an attempt to appease Beijing, saying he had not ruled out a separate visit to the self-ruled democracy that China claims as its own.

“China can’t tell me where and when I can go,” McCarthy was reported as saying.

McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking official to visit Taiwan in 25 years when she travelled to the island last August, but her trip triggered fury in Beijing, which has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the island. In retaliation for the trip, Beijing staged several days of live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, which included firing missiles.

Since taking office as Speaker of the House in January, McCarthy has also indicated he would like to visit the island.

A meeting with Tsai on US soil, however, may come first as the Taiwanese president reportedly plans to stop in California and New York in April on her way to visit diplomatic allies in Central America, according to the Financial Times, which cited unnamed officials.

Taiwan’s presidential office, in a brief statement responding to media enquiries, said “transit arrangements” had been in place for many years, without directly mentioning the US.

“At present, various departments are communicating and preparing for relevant plans, and the planning of the related itinerary will be explained in a timely manner after the plan is finalised,” it said.

China’s foreign ministry said it was “seriously concerned” at the reports of a “transit” during the overseas visit and had asked for a clarification from the US.

In late January, the ministry urged US officials to “abide by the One China principle” and “stop doing anything that violates the basic norms in international relations,” in what was widely seen as a veiled reference to McCarthy.

For Beijing, the One China principle means there is a single China that includes Taiwan.

The US does not officially recognise Taiwan’s government, also known as the Republic of China, but it maintains a more ambiguous policy about which government lays claim to the island and is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself. Beijing and Taipei have been at odds since the Nationalists established a government there at the end of the country’s civil war in 1949.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a presidential spokesperson did not reply to Al Jazeera’s questions at the time of publication, but the presidential office told the Reuters news agency that preparations were being made for an official trip.

While there has long been an unspoken rule that top Taiwanese leaders do not visit Washington, DC, to meet officials, they have historically made “stopovers” on trips elsewhere.

The Taiwan Travel Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018, has also made it easier for Taiwanese officials to meet their US counterparts.

During her tenure as president, Tsai has met Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio in Miami in 2016, as well as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Houston in 2017. She made a stopover in Los Angeles in 2018 and gave remarks at a talk on Taiwanese democracy at Columbia University in New York City in 2019.

Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist who teaches at the Australian National University’s Taiwan Studies Programme, said the trip appeared to be a compromise that would allow the US to show its ongoing support for Taiwan while not appearing to bend to Beijing.

“Some may be concerned about whether another visit at this time may be too unnecessarily provocative, as partners are already stretched thin with helping Ukraine. They may think that there is better timing than this current moment to be pursuing another US Speaker visit to Taiwan. And Taiwan wants to be seen as an understanding friend,” he told Al Jazeera.

Sung said that as long as Tsai receives upgraded protocol treatment on her next trip, it can be considered a “win” for Taiwan.

Such a change may be in the cards as Tsai will reportedly make a formal speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, a step up from “remarks” shared in 2018, he said.

Source: Al Jazeera