Kevin McCarthy meets with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen amid Chinese language threats

US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (R) speaks with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as he arrives at…

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a bipartisan congressional delegation met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California’s Simi Valley on Wednesday to escalate simmering tensions between the US and China.

The Speaker of the Republican House of Representatives called Tsai “a great friend of America” ​​and said they would “find ways for the people of America and Taiwan to work together to advance economic freedom, democracy, peace and stability in Asia.”

Neither McCarthy nor Tsai mentioned China by name on a joint appearance, but the looming threat from Beijing was never far away.

“Today is the peace we have maintained and the democracy we have worked hard to face unprecedented challenges,” Tsai said.

She thanked members of Congress for “enhancing Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities,” a reference to the billions of dollars in annual US arms sales to Taiwan that Congress authorizes.

U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R) and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen address the press after a bipartisan meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California April 5, 2023.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

McCarthy later spoke at a one-on-one press conference, saying the United States should speed up its arms shipments to Taiwan.

He compared the island territory to Ukraine, which has been defending itself against a brutal Russian invasion for the past year. If the United States had shipped more arms to Ukraine over the past decade, McCarthy said, that might have changed Moscow’s calculus.

Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy followed private sessions she held with small groups of US lawmakers last week. On Friday, she met with three members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in New York City: Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.

Also on Friday, Tsai met with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in his home state of New York.

In contrast to these low-key meetings, however, McCarthy’s scheduled afternoon events with Tsai included a group of House members and several joint appearances, which were reported by the international media.

Even portions of Wednesday’s meetings billed as private became public when McCarthy tweeted a photo of him and Tsai speaking one-on-one.

The meeting enraged Chinese Communist Party leaders and sparked veiled threats from Beijing towards congressmen attending the events. China’s government said it plans to take “decisive action” to respond to the “provocation.”

In Los Angeles, the Chinese consulate Monday warned McCarthy not to “repeat past catastrophic mistakes and further damage Sino-US relations.” The Consulate was referring to a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. to Taiwan last August.

That visit sparked furious condemnation from Beijing, which launched Chinese military exercises involving live fire in the Taiwan Strait just hours after Pelosi left the self-governing island.

In a statement Wednesday, Pelosi said the McCarthy-Tsai meeting was “commendable for its leadership, bipartisan participation, and prestigious and historic venue.”

China regards Taiwan as a province of mainland China and regards any attempt by the Taiwanese leadership to act independently of Beijing as a threat to Chinese sovereignty.

Tsai’s week-long trip to the United States is actually unofficial and is described as a “transit” rather than a visit. But in reality, Tsai’s busy schedule of high-level meetings with US lawmakers would rival any official visit by a world leader.

The trip added new tension to already fragile US-China relations, which have been weakened in recent years by Beijing’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea and its aggressive efforts to control Taiwan.

Taiwanese supporters hold signs during a rally in front of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, where Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will spend the night before her meeting with Kevin McCarthy April 4, 2023 in Los Angeles.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

In February, a Chinese reconnaissance balloon flying over the US sparked public outcry until it was shot down by American fighter jets off the east coast.

The following month, a US ban on government devices using the social media app TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, drew a furious rebuke from Beijing.

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