Tsai’s activities in US will make it ‘more difficult’ for Biden to engage China
China’s reaction depends on how provocative Tsai’s trip is: expert
Published: Apr 03, 2023 09:13 PM Updated: Apr 03, 2023 10:59 PM
Chinese nationals hold a board saying Tsai Ing-wen is big traitor of China to protest Tsai's transit trip on March 29, 2023 outside the hotel where she was staying in Manhattan, New York. Photo: VCG

Chinese nationals hold a board saying "Tsai Ing-wen is big traitor of China" to protest Tsai's transit trip on March 29, 2023 outside the hotel where she was staying in Manhattan, New York. Photo: VCG

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Monday that "China will take firm measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity," in response to a question over how it would react if US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy meets Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the separatist authorities on the island of Taiwan. 

Mao Ning, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a press conference on Monday, "China has repeatedly stressed that we are firmly opposed to any form of official contact between the US and the Taiwan authorities… Relevant US lawmakers should abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US joint communiqués, and refrain from sending wrong signals to Taiwan secessionist forces, so as not to damage China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits."

Although the White House seems to be trying to deal with her trip in a low-profile manner, experts said any form of official contact between the Republican House speaker and the Taiwan regional leader will bring trouble and uncertainty to China-US relations. 

When the Biden administration is seeking engagement with China, the US should avoid any possibility of provocation that will harm China's core interests, Chinese analysts warned. 

A report by the Hill on Monday called the "expected meeting" between McCarthy and Tsai this week in California a "careful exercise."

The Biden administration is going to "unprecedented lengths to play down the importance" of Tsai's visit to the US this week, as officials "try to keep an already soured relationship with China from getting any worse," said a Bloomberg report on Friday.

Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times that "it is clear that the US has learned some lessons from the consequences of the provocative visit made by Nancy Pelosi last year, so the reception specifications and media coverage of Tsai's activities this time have been lower than Taiwan secessionists' expectations so far."

"But her trip is not finished yet, so we still need to pay attention to what happens in the coming days. The reaction from the Chinese mainland depends on how provocative Tsai's activities are," said a Beijing-based expert on international relations who asked for anonymity. "In other words, if there are any countermeasures, they might be seen after Tsai completely finishes her activities in the US." 

According to information released by the Taiwan defense authority, military aircraft and naval vessels from the Chinese mainland have been operating around the waters of Taiwan Straits from Sunday to Monday. 

Chinese analysts said that it's totally right and legitimate for the People's Liberation Army to take any action around the island of Taiwan in response to the provocations made by the Taiwan authorities and any US encouragement to Taiwan secessionist forces. The massive military exercises around the island last year were a strong signal and warning to any force that seeks to provoke China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and proof to the world that China is able to crack down on any threat to the Taiwan question by force if necessary.  

Although there have been differences between the White House and the Republican House speaker on how to deal with Tsai's visit this time, Democrats and Republicans are the same in using the Taiwan question as a card to contain China, said Li.

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, echoed that view. "Whether the White House and the House speaker are from the same party or not, whatever the speaker does is actually based on the acquiescence of the White House. At the very least, the speaker's move has not received any direct or clear opposition from the White House." he said.

Pelosi's trip last year and McCarthy's potential moves in the future show that the various forces in Washington are playing a game of "good cop, bad cop," because if they sincerely respect China's core interests, they should ban any form of official contact with the Taiwan authorities, not just in the form of exchanges between politicians, but also in arms sales and other military ties, said experts. 

Since February, Washington has unilaterally released information about US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo planning to visit China, and US President Joe Biden also said he hopes to talk to the Chinese leader, but the Chinese side has not confirmed or responded clearly to all those signals released from Washington.

If the US wants to engage with China to solve some problems or ask for help from China to handle its messy economic situation, Washington needs to show concrete sincerity to create conditions for the talks it wants, otherwise the exchanges will be meaningless, said Chinese experts, who also held low expectations of China-US relations recovering soon.