GP Short Notes # 699, 9 April 2023
Taiwan: President Tsai meets with US Speaker, despite the Chinese threats McCarthy
On 5 April, the US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, met with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in South California. Tsai said: "The unwavering support reassures the people of Taiwan that we are not isolated, we are not alone. To preserve peace, we must be strong." The meeting is part of Tsai's 10-day visit to Central America.
Before the meeting, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued multiple warnings urging the US to cancel the meeting and threatened to take retaliatory measures. On 6 April, the Foreign Ministry accused Tsai and McCarthy of promoting the notion of Taiwanese Independence. The statement read: "In response to the seriously wrong acts of collusion between the United States and Taiwan, China will take resolute and effective measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."
On the same day, China's aircraft carrier Shandong conducted a drill 200 nautical miles from Taiwan's East Coast. Before the meeting, other Chinese navy vessels also passed through the Bashi Channel and entered the Pacific. China also sent a large-scale patrol and rescue vessel for a three-day joint patrol and inspection operation in the central and northern Taiwan Strait.
What is the background?
First, the significance of the meeting. The last meeting between the Taiwanese President and a Speaker of the US House took place in August 2022 when US Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Tsai in Taipei. Before Pelosi's visit, a meeting of that level only took place 25 years ago, in 1997. The meeting with McCarthy was also scheduled in Taiwan but was later rescheduled to take place in the US. The visit is also Tsai's last in her political capacity as the President.
Second, China's previous reactions to similar visits and meetings. In response to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, the Chinese People's Liberation Army and Navy conducted months-long military drills in the Taiwan Straits. The duration of these drills has been extended numerous times while the incursions into the Taiwanese territories have also surged in the last year. In 2022, the PLA was responsible for 1727 incursions into Taiwan's ADIZ. Compared to the 960 incursions in 2021 and 380 incidents in 2020, there is a definite uptick in the Chinese military's activities around the island.
Third, the frequency of visits. After Pelosi's visit, the number of political meetings between the Taiwanese government and foreign diplomats has increased relatively. In September 2022, five French lawmakers landed in Taipei, followed by a German delegation in October 2022.
Fourth, Taiwan's attempt to shore up alliances. On 26 March, Honduras announced its decision to sever ties with Taiwan and accept the one-China principle to support its weakening economy, which was bound to benefit through relations with the PRC. In 2021, Nicaragua also severed ties after receiving a USD 100 million loan from China. After the sudden departures in diplomatic ties, Taiwan is now left with 13 allies from the Americas and Africa.
What does it mean?
First, looking beyond relations with the US. Tsai's trip to Central America and the US is seen as an attempt to shore up and maintain relations with its remaining allies in light of Honduras' decision to sever ties. For the Taiwanese administration, this is a crucial moment to broad base its support for itself against China. The meeting with McCarthy also signifies the US support and defiance against China.
However, the change in venue for the meeting is also seen as the US attempt to pacify China by not holding the political meet-up in Taipei or the US capital city. Even though the US Speaker and other lawmakers participate in meetings with the Taiwanese administration, the country does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. However, the US deems it necessary to display its defiance towards China by continuing its engagements with Taiwan.
Lastly, China's Taiwan Conundrum. China is expected to react aggressively in the Taiwan Strait as the increase in political conferences makes the CPC wary of promoting the idea of two separate Chinese sovereign territories. Despite its stringent requirement to adhere to the one-China principle to pursue relations with the PRC, foreign delegates meeting the Taiwanese executives threatens its standing as the People's Republic of China. However, the military drills are as far as China can go to establish its discontent with the meetings.