Taiwan's leader praises US ties: ‘We are not alone’

Tsai meets US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles despite Beijing’s warnings.
Alex Willemyns for RFA
Taiwan's leader praises US ties: ‘We are not alone’ Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen meets the U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Wednesday, April 5, 2023.

UPDATED at 4:27 P.M. ET on 2023-04-05

Bucking increasingly bellicose threats from Beijing, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with a bipartisan congressional delegation led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy just outside of Los Angeles on Wednesday, declaring “we are not isolated, and we are not alone.”

Tsai arrived at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in the city of Simi Valley just before 10 a.m., with McCarthy greeting the Taiwanese leader outside before ushering her into a closed-door roundtable meeting with 17 other House members from both major parties.

Emerging with McCarthy around midday, Tsai said she was grateful for the time taken by the cross-party lawmakers, which included Democratic House caucus chair Pete Aguilar and Mike Gallagher, a Republican who chairs the House Select Committee on China.

“Their presence and unwavering support reassure the people of Taiwan that we are not isolated, and we are not alone,” Tsai said.

She noted it was fitting to meet in a place dedicated to “a distinguished American president” who issued the 1982 Six Assurances on Taiwan.

U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen during a bipartisan meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday, April 5, 2023. (AFP)

In the years since that communique, Tsai explained, the self-governing island had democratized and “maintained peace and promoted prosperity.” But she suggested that the legacy was now under threat, appearing to make a veiled reference to China’s government.

“It is no secret that today the peace that we have maintained, and the democracy which we have worked hard to build, are facing unprecedented challenges,” she said. “We once again find ourselves in a world where democracy is under threat, and the urgency of keeping the beacon of freedom shining cannot be understated.”

The Taiwanese leader then quoted Reagan from a 1987 speech in which he said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” As she read the words, McCarthy mouthed along.

The free world

Standing beside Tsai, the U.S. House speaker said he believed U.S.-Taiwan relations had tightened due to her latest visit and that “our bond is stronger now than at any time or point in my lifetime.”

“Taiwan is a successful democracy, a thriving economy and a global leader in health and science,” McCarthy said, praising the “shared values” of Taiwan and the United States, as well as their expanding commercial ties and “strong people-to-people relationships.” 

“The friendship between the people of Taiwan and America,” he added, “is a matter of profound importance to the free world.”

Outside the library, competing protests continued between supporters of Tsai and pro-Beijing groups, who argue she should not be in the United States. But as in New York last week, there was no violence.

Beijing has slammed Tsai’s “transit” through America this week and last, labeling the trip a campaign for Taiwan’s independence. It regards the self-governing island as a renegade province and has vowed to “reunite” it with the mainland using force if necessary.

A Chinese diplomat also warned of a “serious, serious, serious confrontation in the U.S.-China relationship” if the meeting happens, but Biden administration officials say it’s McCarthy’s prerogative.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen attends a bipartisan meeting with U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday, April 5, 2023. (AFP)

Early Wednesday, China’s navy sent an aircraft carrier group through the Bashi Channel – between Taiwan and the Philippines – and into the Pacific, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry, which called the move irresponsible and announced new naval drills next week.

John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said Wednesday that Beijing’s moves did not worry him.

“There’s nothing atypical or uncommon about presidents of Taiwan transiting the United States or, in fact, meeting with members of Congress. That's pretty typical, too,” Kirby told reporters.

“Our position remains the same: There's no reason for the Chinese to overreact in any way. We'll watch this as closely as we can.”

‘A pathetic threat’

Tsai last week also met with another bipartisan congressional delegation led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, during her visit to the east coast, according to reports, but that meeting was not publicized until after it took place.

But it was the high-profile McCarthy meeting that rankled Beijing.

Washington-based PunchBowl News on Tuesday obtained an email sent to McCarthy from Li Xiang, the Chinese Embassy in Washington's liaison to Congress, warning of consequences over the meeting.

“I have to point out that China will not sit idly by in the face of a blatant provocation and will most likely take necessary and resolute actions in response to the unwanted situation,” Li wrote. “Former Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi's visit to Taiwan last year triggered a serious crisis in the China-U.S. relationship, and the lessons should be learned.”

Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Republican from Iowa, told Radio Free Asia before the meeting that she too had received the warning.

“We did not respond to the embassy, but made the e-mail public to bring their tactics to light,” Hinson said, calling it a “pathetic threat,” and adding she would “relentlessly stand up for freedom and with Taiwan.”

“My message back to them is this: I look forward to meeting with President Tsai and reaffirming our commitment to Taiwan and freedom-loving nations everywhere,” Hinson said

Tsai returns to Taiwan on Thursday. But the drama might not be over.

McCarthy said last month he may repeat Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan this year, insisting “China can’t tell me where and when I can go.” 

Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin – a rising star in the Republican Party and a possible 2024 presidential contender – on Tuesday also said he will visit Taiwan later this month.

Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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