The President of Taiwan arrives in America. Political disputes await you.

Tsai stops in the United States at both ends of a Latin American trip. She will be in New York for a day on Thursday to receive a leadership award from a conservative think tank and meet with the Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles on April 5.

This is Tsai’s seventh such trip to the United States since becoming president in 2016, but it comes as tensions between Washington and Beijing have soured over the spy balloon that recently transited by the support of the United States and China for Russia in its war against Ukraine.

His visit makes the growing rift between lawmakers arguing for Taiwan’s protection at all costs all the more stark and an administration trying to rein in China without completely derailing a relationship that’s already at its most frosty level in decades.

Beijing calls the visit an affront to US-China relations and a provocation. “The trip is not so much a ‘transit’…but the United States shows its complicity with the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists and supports them,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday. Foreign Affairs, Mao Ning. Chinese Office of Taiwan Affairs spokesman Zhu Fenglian added that Beijing “will take steps to resolutely counter” any meeting between Tsai and McCarthy.

Asked Wednesday about McCarthy’s plan to meet with Tsai, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, “We’ll leave it up to President McCarthy to talk about his schedule, his agenda and what he’s doing.” he intends to do or not to do, particularly with regard to this transit. Taipei is cooperating by not disclosing any details about Tsai’s U.S. schedule.

McCarthy is among a group of lawmakers who argue the Biden administration isn’t doing enough to show support for Taiwan. And they demand that the United States provide all necessary military and diplomatic support to prevent Beijing from attempting to annex the island. Over the past two years, they have drafted legislation proposing everything from establishing formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan to lending US military equipment to Taipei in the event of “preemptive aggression” by China.

The Biden administration “isn’t strong enough in supporting Taiwan,” the rep said. Anne Wagner (R-Mo.). “Prioritizing US-Taiwanese arms sales and training programs today is a prerequisite for deterring a PRC attack on Taiwan in the near future.”

This sentiment is bipartisan. representing Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), a senior member of the House Select Committee on China, said the administration must expand and strengthen U.S. defense and economic ties with Taiwan, and provide long-promised weapons.

The next meeting between McCarthy and Tsai is a great example of the dynamic. McCarthy initially announced plans to visit Taiwan, prompting Beijing to warn that such a trip “could undermine China-US relations or peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”. It was a clear reminder that China had responded to the then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosiin Taiwan in August with days of live-fire air and naval exercises around the island.

McCarthy responded by saying “I don’t think China can tell me where I can go.” The Biden administration has refrained from intervening. “I’m not aware of the president’s office announcing a planned trip. … They’re going to make their own decisions,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in January.

It’s unclear what prompted McCarthy to compromise with the California meeting (and his office did not respond to a request for comment). But the White House is clearly concerned that Beijing will respond to Tsai’s presence in the United States with a new wave of threatening military activity around Taiwan. Beijing “should not use this transit as a pretext to escalate any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby told the National Security Council on Wednesday. The White House had “several diplomatic discussions with Beijing” about Tsai’s visit to prevent this from happening, Kirby said.

These talks have not calmed Beijing’s bluster. Tsai’s visit “could lead to another serious, serious, serious showdown in China-US relations,” Xu Xueyuan, charge d’affaires at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, said Wednesday. “Those who play with fire will perish,” Xu warned.

Lawmakers have broken promises from the Biden administration to point to in their case for more action in Taiwan. Deliveries to Taiwan of billions of dollars of US weapons are behind schedule due to pandemic-related supply chain issues exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.

“We are already in the window of maximum danger and we need everyone on deck to deter Xi Jinping’s malign designs in Taiwan,” the representative said. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Select Committee on China, stressing the need to get weapons to Taiwan quickly.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story. But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week that a task force launched in September to unravel issues in arms supply chains was making progress.

Another argument from lawmakers: Biden’s message on Taiwan is so confusing as to increase the risk of China invading Taiwan.

Four times since August 2021, Biden has said the United States will deploy American military forces to defend Taiwan in the event of an attempted Chinese invasion. And in any case, aides backtracked on comments that appear to reverse the longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding the United States’ willingness to defend Taiwan. It “succeeded in both provoking the Chinese and leaving Taiwan without any guarantee of American support, a dangerous scenario,” the senator said. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

A move to an explicit US policy of guaranteed military support for Taiwan to repel a Chinese attack — what Cotton calls “strategic clarity” — has supporters in Taiwan. “Dictators are prone to misjudge situations because they are biased,” said independent Taiwanese lawmaker Freddy Lim. International support for Taiwan “needs to be clearer for China to understand at a glance,” Lim said.

Other Taiwanese observers have less charitable views on Congress’s interest in Taiwan. In the United States, “Taiwan is already political football,” said Andrew Nien-Dzu Yang, Taiwan’s former defense minister and adjunct assistant professor at National Sun Yat-sen University. The intense US focus on the island reflects how “Taiwan is a bargaining chip for the United States,” Yang said.


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