It has become easier for Taiwanese officials to meet with US politicians, even as such meetings upset Beijing.
US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has said he will meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in the United States this year as the presidential office said it was working on “transit” plans for a foreign visit .
McCarthy confirmed his intention to meet with Tsai as he spoke to reporters Tuesday night, but he also stressed that his decision was not an attempt to appease Beijing, saying he would make a separate visit to the self-governed democracy, which China claims is its own.
“China can’t tell me where and when I can go,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking official to visit Taiwan in 25 years when she traveled to the island last August, but her trip sparked anger in Beijing, which hasn’t ruled out the use of force to take control of the island. In retaliation for the trip, Beijing organized several days of live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, which included the firing of missiles.
Since taking office as Speaker of the House in January, McCarthy has also expressed a desire to visit the island.
A meeting with Tsai on US soil could come first, however, as the Taiwanese president reportedly plans to stop in California and New York in April on his way to diplomatic allies in Central America, according to the Financial Times, which cited unnamed officials. quoted.
Taiwan’s presidential office said in a brief statement in response to media inquiries that “transit arrangements” have been in place for many years without directly naming the US.
“Currently, various departments are communicating and preparing relevant plans, and the planning of the related route will be explained in a timely manner after the plan is finalized,” it said.
China’s foreign ministry in late January urged US officials to “adhere to the One China principle” and “stop doing anything that violates basic norms in international relations,” in what became common seen as a veiled reference to McCarthy.
For Beijing, the One China principle means there is one China with Taiwan.
The US does not officially recognize the government of Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, but pursues a more ambiguous policy where the government lays claim to the island and is legally bound 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 civil war in 1949.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry and a presidential spokesman did not respond to Al Jazeera’s questions at time of publication, but the presidential office told Reuters that preparations were underway for an official trip.
While there has long been an unspoken rule that top Taiwanese leaders do not visit Washington, D.C. 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 with their US counterparts.
During her tenure as president, Tsai has met with 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 provided remarks speaking about 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 Program, said the trip appeared to be a compromise that would allow the US to continue supporting Taiwan without bowing to Beijing.
“Some may be concerned that a return visit might be too unnecessarily provocative at this point, as the partners are already this far in helping Ukraine. They may think there is better timing than this present moment to pursue 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 improved protocol treatment on her next trip, it can be considered a “victory” for Taiwan.
Such a change may be in the cards, as Tsai will reportedly deliver a formal speech at California’s Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, a step up from the “comments” shared in 2018, he said.