(CNSNews.com) – There is no need for China to overreact – or indeed to react at all – to a planned stopover in the United States of Taiwan’s president, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said on Wednesday, characterizing the visit as an unofficial and private affair.
Taipei has confirmed that President Tsai Ing-wen will make two “transit” stops in the U.S., in New York City late this month and in Los Angeles in early April, on her way to and from visits to two allies in Central America.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) confirmed last week that he will meet with Tsai while she is in the United States. He said the planned encounter was unrelated to any potential future plans to travel to Taiwan, adding that “China can’t tell me where or when to go.”
Earlier the Financial Times reported that Taiwan had persuaded McCarthy to meet with Tsai on U.S. soil rather than visit the island, “to avoid an aggressive Chinese military response.”
His Democratic predecessor’s brief visit last summer, the first by a Speaker in 25 years, sparked an angry reaction from Beijing, which claims the self-governing democracy as its own.
During Nancy Pelosi’s visit and for several days afterwards, the People’s Liberation Army carried out its biggest ever war games around the island, including live-fire exercises close to its shoreline.
McCarthy, who praised Pelosi’s visit at the time, said later in the year he hoped to travel to Taiwan should he become Speaker.
Earlier this week a senior U.S. official told reporters on a background call that Tsai had made transit visits to the U.S. six times since taking office in 2016, following similar visits by her predecessors.
“We see no reason for Beijing to turn this transit – again, which is consistent with long-standing U.S. policy – into anything but what it is,” the official said. “It should not be used as a pretext to step up any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait.”
At Tuesday’s White House briefing, Kirby was asked whether the administration’s deliberate downplaying of the visit was a reflection of concern that China may overreact.
He disputed the notion that it was being downplayed, saying it was factual to say that transit visits by Taiwanese presidents were not uncommon.
“There’s no reason for China to overreact,” Kirby said. “Heck, there’s no reason for them to react. I mean, this is something that – that, as I said, is commonplace, and has happened before, will likely happen again.”
“It’s personal, it’s unofficial. There should be no reason for Beijing to – to react in any way to this. Again, business as usual here.”
Since the Republicans regained control of the House, the leadership has held several China-focused hearings and created a select committee on the strategic competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party.
When he first announced the establishment of the select committee, McCarthy was attacked by Chinese officials and state media outlets.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Tuesday reiterated Beijing opposition to any dealings between U.S. and Taiwanese politicians.
“We strongly oppose any form of official interaction between the U.S. and Taiwan, strongly oppose any U.S. visit by the leader of the Taiwan authorities regardless of the rationale or pretext, and strongly oppose all forms of U.S. contact with the Taiwan authorities, which violates the one-China principle,” he said.
Wang rejected the labeling of the planned trip as a “transit,” saying that it is rather “an attempt to seek breakthroughs and propagate Taiwan independence.”
Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have run high during the tenure of Tsai, a leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which Beijing regards as a pro-independence “separatist” movement.
Some U.S. officials and observers have voiced concern that presidential elections scheduled for early 2024 could be an particularly risky time for Taiwan, as China seeks to prevent another DPP victory. (Tsai cannot stand for a third term.)
Earlier this year a U.S. Air Force general warned in a memo to subordinates that the Taiwan election could provide Chinese President Xi Jinping with the opportunity for aggression, at a time when the U.S. would be distracted by its own election campaign.
General Mike Minihan, head of the Illinois-based Air Mobility Command, expressed concern that conflict between the U.S. and China could occur as soon as 2025.
A Pentagon official told reporters that the remarks were “not representative of the department’s view on China,” but House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said at the time that, while he hoped Minihan was wrong, “I think he is right though, unfortunately.”
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