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Speaker McCarthy’s California meeting with Tsai threads Taiwan needle

Speaker McCarthy’s California meeting with Tsai threads Taiwan needle


Last year, House Speaker-hopeful Kevin McCarthy said he would “love” to visit Taiwan. But now that he has become the Republican leader, a trip to Taipei, he advised, would involve politics in Taiwan’s presidential election.

In recent weeks, there was an opportunity to meet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in early April in California, where she was invited to make a public speech at the Reagan Library.

McCarthy said this week that the trip to California “has nothing to do with my trip, if I’m going to Taiwan.” China, he said, cannot tell him “where I can go at any time, at any place.”

China claims the self-governed island as its own territory and has not relinquished its control by force.

Taiwanese officials advised McCarthy’s staff, according to people familiar with the matter, that a trip this year would be exploited for political purposes by the opposition Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang. The KMT favors closer ties with Beijing and, heading into next year’s presidential election, is seeking to portray Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party’s cross-strait policy as dangerous, unnecessarily provocative and raising the risk of war. in China.

Tsai visited the United States in late March and early April en route to Central America, making at least two US stops — in New York and Simi Valley, Calif. He will speak on March 30 at a private event in New York City hosted by the conservative think tank Hudson Institute. Congressional leaders, including McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), will be invited, according to people familiar with the matter, who like others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter. sensitivity

The flurry of developments surrounding Tsai’s trip comes as Beijing ratchets up its rhetoric toward Washington. Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping directly accused the United States of leading Western countries in a campaign of “all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China.” Xi has generally refrained from naming Washington, instead criticizing “some countries” as harboring a “Cold War” mentality and trying to contain China.

On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said that China “strongly opposes any form of official contact between the US and the Taiwan region,” and “strongly opposes the US having any way of engaging with separatist ‘Taiwan independence’ elements.”

A spokesman for Tsai said her office had no comment because “the president’s schedule is still being worked out.” The spokesman also said that no one in the president’s office had asked McCarthy not to visit Taiwan.

The Reagan Library on Jan. 24 invited Tsai to give a public speech, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Washington Post. She gave her first public address in the United States as president at the library in 2018. A Reagan Foundation spokeswoman said Saturday that she still could not confirm Tsai’s visit, but two other individuals with direct knowledge of the matter said he accepted the invitation.

McCarthy plans to meet with him in Simi Valley, and the hope is that he will introduce her before he makes a major policy address, the person said. He began inviting Democratic lawmakers to join him on the trip.

Tsai’s appearance at the Hudson Institute event and McCarthy’s plan to meet with Tsai in California are first reported by the Financial Times.

At the private Hudson Institute dinner, Tsai will give a speech and be presented with an international leadership award previously bestowed on former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and then-US ambassador to the United Nations that is Nikki Haley. It was Tsai’s first time appearing in person at the organization, which hosted her for a virtual event in 2020.

McCarthy’s meeting with Tsai in California focused the needle on showing support for Taiwan while making it difficult for China to mount an aggressive response, said Eric Sayers, a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute: “This is a win for a future-sensitive DPP. of next year’s election, for Tsai to be able to speak to an expanded American audience about her country’s role in the world, for McCarthy to have a unique opportunity to raise Taiwan’s importance within the United States, and it will indeed complicate on Beijing’s ability to deploy a provocative military response across Taiwan.”

The event at the Reagan Library, scheduled for April 5, comes less than a year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan, becoming the first sitting speaker to do so in 25 year. In Taipei, he met with Tsai and received a presidential award.

China responded in the following days with a show of military force, unnerving its regional neighbors. Ballistic missiles it fired at the self-ruled island landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. It closed maritime areas around Taiwan in what some analysts said appeared to mimic an economic blockade. Its naval ships and military jets crossed the median line, the unofficial maritime border between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland traditionally respected by both sides.

Tsai’s visit to the United States will draw the ire of Beijing, but probably not to such a degree that the People’s Liberation Army mounts a military response similar to what it did after Pelosi’s visit. “We’re in election season in Taiwan, and it’s almost certain that the KMT [Nationalist Party] is sending a message to Beijing, essentially saying ‘don’t stir the water here,’” said Jude Blanchette, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Tsai is the first woman elected president of Taiwan and is in the final year of her second four-year term. Although his Democratic Progressive Party has previously pushed for formal independence, its latest stance is to maintain the current delicate balance with Beijing while also strengthening Taiwan’s ties with the United States and other Western democracies.

Polls show a competitive race for the January presidential election.

“President Tsai probably sees more downsides than upside from Rep. McCarthy’s visit this year,” said Bonnie Glaser, the managing director of the German Marshall Fund’s Indo-Pacific program.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who chairs the new Select Committee on China, is already planning hold a hearing in Taiwan this year. He suggested that a better time for McCarthy’s visit might be after next year’s election on a trip that could inform what Gallagher learned in Taipei.

Lily Kuo and Christian Shepherd in Taipei and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.