• Reuters

Taiwan President to Visit US But No Word on House Speaker Meeting

Reuters file photo
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a news conference with the incoming Taiwan Premier Chen Chien-jen and outgoing Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan January 27, 2023.

TAIPEI/WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will make sensitive stopovers in the United States on her way to and from Central America that could inflame China-U.S. tensions, but Taipei’s government would not confirm a meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Taiwanese presidents routinely pass through the United States while visiting diplomatic allies in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, which while not official visits are often used by both sides for high-level meetings.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic relations with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, but is its most important international backer and arms supplier.

China has said it is “seriously concerned” about Tsai’s U.S. transit plans, which have already been widely reported in Taiwanese and international media.

Tsai will transit through New York and Los Angeles as part of a trip to Guatemala and Belize, leaving Taipei on March 29 and returning April 7, presidential office spokesperson Lin Yu-chan told reporters. Sources have told Reuters that McCarthy intends to meet her during the California leg of her visit.

Asked whether he could confirm the McCarthy meeting, Taiwan Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Yui said details of the U.S. transits would be given at a later date once arrangements had been finalised.

An infuriated China staged war games near Taiwan in August following a Taipei visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

STANDARD PRACTICE

Speaking shortly before Taiwan’s announcement of Tsai’s trip, a senior U.S. administration official said her expected transits are standard practice and China should not use them as a pretext for aggressive action toward the democratically governed island.

But the senior U.S. official told reporters on a call on Monday night that every president of Taiwan had transited through the U.S., and that Tsai has done so herself six times since taking office 2016, most recently in 2019.

She had met members of Congress during all of those visits, the official added, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had limited her travel in more recent years.

“We see no reason for Beijing to turn this transit, again, which is consistent with long-standing U.S. policy, into anything but what it is. It should not be used as a pretext to step up any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait,” the official said.

The official said Washington had communicated to Beijing that Tsai’s stopovers are in keeping with past precedent.