China threatens to ‘fight back’ if Taiwanese president visits US

President Tsai Ing-wen - AP Photo/Johnson Lai
President Tsai Ing-wen - AP Photo/Johnson Lai

China has warned it will “fight back” if the Taiwanese president goes ahead with a visit to the US.

Beijing, which claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, has repeatedly warned US officials not to welcome Tsai Ing-wen, and on Wednesday said a proposed meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California next week would be viewed as a “provocation”.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office denounced the president’s planned stops in New York and Los Angeles en route to Central America as a “sneaky” attempt to meet US politicians to promote Taiwanese independence.

“If she has contact with US House Speaker McCarthy, it will be another provocation that seriously violates the one-China principle, harms China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and destroys peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” said spokesperson Zhu Fenglian.

“We firmly oppose this and will definitely take measures to resolutely fight back,” Ms Zhu added without giving details.

President Tsai has insisted external pressure would not prevent Taiwan from engaging with other nations. Taipei rejects China’s sovereignty claims and has repeatedly asked Beijing to come to the negotiating table but has been rebuffed.

Nancy Pelosi - AP Photo/Kin Cheung
Nancy Pelosi - AP Photo/Kin Cheung

“We are calm and confident, will neither yield nor provoke,” she said at Taiwan’s main international airport at Taoyuan, ahead of her flight to New York.

“Taiwan will firmly walk on the road of freedom and democracy and go into the world. Although this road is rough, Taiwan is not alone.”

The bulk of her overseas trip will be spent on an official state visit to Guatemala and Belize, two of Taiwan’s last remaining diplomatic allies.

For decades, Taiwanese presidents have routinely passed through the US while visiting allies in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, and the State Department on Monday stressed Ms Tsai’s transit was “consistent with our ‘one China’ policy, which also remains unchanged”.

The US does not formally recognise Taiwan although it has strong ties to Taipei and remains the island’s biggest arms supplier. Washington maintains the unsettled issue of Taiwanese sovereignty should be “mutually and peacefully” agreed by both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Ms Tsai has visited the US four times since first taking office in 2016.

However, her latest trip is likely to incur closer scrutiny as it comes at a time of heightened competition between the US and China and bitter sparring over a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon which floated in US airspace and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ma Ying-jeou - AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Ma Ying-jeou - AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Plans for Ms Tsai to meet Mr McCarthy at California’s Ronald Reagan Presidential Library next week have not been officially confirmed.

The Speaker had previously indicated he would travel to Taipei but the Biden and Tsai administrations have reportedly been concerned about a Chinese reaction on the scale of its response to a high-level trip by Nancy Pelosi in August, when Beijing launched unprecedented war games around Taiwan and used it as a pretext to continue to erode its security.

As Ms Tsai visits the US, her presidential predecessor and opposition Kuomintang (KMT) heavyweight Ma Ying-jeou is travelling on a historic visit to China - the first such trip by a former or current president since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Mr Ma will not meet senior Chinese leaders but his visit has been viewed by some analysts as an effort ahead of Taiwan’s elections next year to show the KMT can maintain closer ties with China.

“People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese people,” Mr Ma said, using wording meaning people of Chinese ethnicity, rather than referring to their nationality.

He said he hoped for peace and to “avoid war”.