Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen will be visiting two of her Central American allies, Guatemala and Belize, but with unofficial stops in the US. This move has sparked concerns about escalating tensions with China, as the US administration under President Joe Biden seeks to emphasize the “personal” nature of the stops.
According to the National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, these stops are called “transits,” and are not uncommon, with President Tsai having done it six times before. Kirby dismissed the notion that the US administration was trying to diminish the significance of any visits, stating that it was merely a matter of being factual.
The US maintains diplomatic ties with China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory. China is known for opposing state-to-state relations between Taiwan and other nations, and just recently, Honduras indicated that it would likely cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish a relationship with China.
Taiwan would be left with only 13 official diplomatic allies if this happens. In the meantime, the US administration is taking measures to ensure that Taiwan’s unofficial stops in the US are perceived as personal visits and not diplomatic overtures.
Despite this, the US has faced criticism from China for maintaining unofficial relations with Taiwan, such as the sale of military weapons and equipment. On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry denounced President Tsai’s upcoming visit, cautioning against any contact between the US and Taiwan governments.
Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Ministry, stated that “We once again caution the Taiwan authorities that there is no possibility of achieving independence for Taiwan, and any aspirations to collude with external forces for independence or to provoke are doomed to fail.”
He also criticized Germany for its education minister’s recent trip to Taiwan, characterizing it as a display of “disgusting behavior.” Germany, like the US, does not maintain official relations with Taiwan and denied allegations that the visit breached the “One China” policy.
To alleviate diplomatic tensions, the Biden administration stressed on Tuesday that President Tsai’s visit to the US would be “informal” and consistent with standard protocol.
Kirby addressed reporters, stating that “There is no need for China to respond in an exaggerated manner. In fact, there is no need for them to respond at all. This is a routine matter, as I have mentioned.”
However, reports of President Tsai’s layovers in the US have fueled speculation that she may have plans to meet with Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the US House of Representatives.
McCarthy had been rumored to be considering a trip to Taiwan, similar to the one taken by former Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Her brief visit last August, along with five other Democratic Party members, made her the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan since 1997.
However, China was outraged and conducted military exercises around the island, including missile drops near its shores.
President Tsai’s visit to the US may offer an alternative to Kevin McCarthy, who was considering a potentially controversial trip to Taiwan.
When asked about the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders, Taiwan’s Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Yui declined to confirm any plans, stating that specifics would be disclosed at a later time.
According to Tsai’s spokesperson, Lin Yu-chan, she will arrive in New York on March 30 en route to Central America. She is also expected to pass through Los Angeles on April 5, which happens to be McCarthy’s home state in California.