US ready to let Taiwan leader visit to see top Republican
The US State Department signals it would permit Taiwan's President to head to California to see House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The US State Department showed Wednesday it would permit Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen to go to California to see House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, devaluing the significance of the event against protests by China.
McCarthy said Tuesday he would meet Tsai in his home state, sidestepping a possible visit by the top Republican to Taiwan that policymakers there were concerned could trigger a military response from China.
Read: 'China can't tell me where and when I can go' to Taiwan: McCarthy
State Department spokesperson Ned Price called Tsai's expected visit to the US a "transit," instead of a "visit", which supports but does not recognize the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing.
"Transits of the United States by high-level Taiwan officials are consistent with longstanding US policy and with our unofficial and strong relations with Taiwan," Price told reporters, adding, "That is nothing new. It is not something that would break any new ground. It is entirely consistent with the status quo".
He said that Tsai has already transited six times through the US since she was inaugurated in 2016.
Those trips were on the way to or from Taiwan's diminishing number of allies in Latin America, not for high-profile talks in the US.
The State Department let Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's then president, visit his alma mater in 1996 at Cornell University in New York after pressure from Congress, which started a crisis that led China to launch missiles into waters near the island.
Read: Chinese coast guards force Japanese ships away from disputed islands
Beijing took similar steps last August after McCarthy's predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. Some experts believe it to be a rehearsal for an alleged incursion by a now stronger China.
China said that it was "gravely concerned" about the meeting between Tsai and McCarthy, and it "firmly opposes" any contact between Taiwan and the US.
"I want to stress that China... firmly opposes the ringleaders of the Taiwan independence separatists scurrying off to the United States in any name and under any pretext," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.
Taiwan's foreign ministry said on Thursday that China had "no right to point fingers" at the island's diplomatic exchanges.
"President Tsai is the head of state of the Republic of China," Douglas Hsu, a Taiwanese foreign ministry official, said, using the official name Taiwan uses to describe itself.
"Such a malicious slander is unacceptable. China's remarks disregard the facts and are undignified."
Meeting Tsai in California, McCarthy insisted, would not rule out a later trip to Taiwan, which has wide bipartisan support in the US Congress.