2023-0406: U.S. House Speaker McCarthy Meets Taiwan President Tsai; China’s Drills in Response to McCarthy-Tsai Meeting

U.S. House Speaker McCarthy, Taiwan President Tsai Reaffirm Strong U.S.-Taiwan Bond After Historic Meeting

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reaffirmed the strong partnership between Taiwan and the United States and their commitment to safeguarding regional stability, following their historic meeting in California on April 5 ― the first-ever meeting between a Taiwanese president and a U.S. House speaker on U.S. soil.

The meeting, which was also attended by more than a dozen Republican and Democratic Congressional members, took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, and was the third time a Taiwan president met with a U.S. House speaker since the United States ended official diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979.

“I believe our bond is stronger now than at any time or point in my life,” Speaker McCarthy said after the two-hour closed-door meeting, calling Tsai “a great champion” of the bond between the U.S. and Taiwan while standing in front of the plane used by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan as Air Force One.

“Taiwan is a successful democracy, a thriving economy, and a global leader in health and science. And whether it’s our deep commercial ties, strong people-to-people relationships, or shared values, our cooperation with the people of Taiwan continue to expand through dialogue and exchange,” McCarthy said.

The friendship between the U.S. and Taiwan “is a matter of profound importance to the free world” and is critical to maintaining economic freedom, peace and regional stability, he stressed, while vowing that the U.S. will honor its obligations and commitment to its shared values with Taiwan.

Meanwhile, President Tsai thanked McCarthy and the group of bipartisan U.S. lawmakers for meeting with her, saying their “presence and unwavering support reassure the people of Taiwan that we are not isolated, and we are not alone.”

She noted that the peace and democracy Taiwan has worked hard to maintain and build are facing “unprecedented” challenges and threat.

Tsai reiterated Taiwan’s commitment to “defending the peaceful status quo,” and cited President Reagan’s saying that “to preserve peace, we must be strong.”

“I would like to add that we are stronger when we are together,” she said.

Tsai also paid tribute to Reagan, who she said played a crucial role in protecting and fortifying U.S.-Taiwan relations at a time of changing diplomatic realities.

President Reagan’s 1982 “Six Assurances” to Taiwan, as well as the landmark 1979 “Taiwan Relations Act,” laid the foundation for a strong and unique partnership of over four decades, during which Taiwan enjoyed peace, prosperity and democracy, Tsai noted.

China, which claims Taiwan is part of Chinese territory and opposes any U.S.-Taiwan interactions, has repeatedly raised objections to the meeting between Tsai and McCarthy.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a press briefing earlier this week that China would “take resolute measures” to protect its national interests should the two meet.

Shortly before Tsai arrived in Los Angeles on April 4, after visiting New York, Guatemala, and Belize as part of her 10-day overseas trip, China announced a three-day drill in the Taiwan Strait.

On April 5, China also sailed its newest aircraft carrier, the Shandong, through waters south of Taiwan into the West Pacific Ocean for a long-range exercise, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.

[1] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202304060003
[2] Taipei Times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2023/04/07/2003797465

China’s Latest Drills Attempt to Eliminate the Taiwan Strait’s “Median Line”

China’s announced drills east of the median line of the Taiwan Strait are intended to underscore that China no longer accepts the previously tacit agreement on the strait median line between the two sides and reassert Chinese territorial claim over the entire Taiwan Strait, a Taiwanese expert said.

Earlier on April 5, China’s Fujian Maritime Safety Administration launched a “joint cruise and patrol special operation” in the Taiwan Strait led by the “Haixun 06,” China’s first large-scale maritime patrol ship, and joined by an indeterminate number of vessels.

The move came shortly before the historic meeting in California between U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

By sending its patrol vessels into waters east of the median line in the Taiwan Strait, China aims to establish a fait accompli that the waters east of the median line are under China’s jurisdiction, Chieh Chung, an associate research fellow with the National Policy Foundation in Taipei, said on April 5.

The median line of the Taiwan Strait refers to a tacit understanding between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China that served as a largely observed unofficial border between the two sides from the 1950s until the visit by then U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi in August 2022.

China claims Taiwan Strait is in its “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) that generally extends 200 nautical miles from a nation’s coastal baseline, within which it has jurisdiction over natural resources.

The “joint cruise and patrol special operation” is being conducted in the name of administering China’s EEZ in accordance with China’s Maritime Traffic Safety Law enacted in 2021 to strengthen its maritime order, Chieh said.

In an interview on April 5, Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said that the “joint cruise and patrol special operation” showed that China is determined to continue to push a hardline stance.

Despite the change of venue for the McCarthy-Tsai meeting, generally seen as a concession to China, Beijing has maintained its tough line policy towards Taiwan and is expected to continue to resort to verbal intimidation and military threats, he said.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) said on late April 5 that China sailed its newest aircraft carrier, the Shandong, through the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan into the West Pacific Ocean for its first long-range training session earlier that day.

The MND denounced the drills as part of the Chinese military’s ongoing intimidation which it said has destabilized regional peace and status quo.

Meanwhile, the U.S. White House said on April 5 that there is no reason for China to overreact to President Tsai’s meeting with House Speaker McCarthy.

“There’s no reason for [the Chinese] to react in any kind of a harsh manner to this or overreact at all because there’s nothing atypical or uncommon about presidents of Taiwan transiting the United States, or in fact meeting with members of Congress,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing.

[1] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202304050017
[2] Focus Taiwan: https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202304060002