China warns McCarthy against Taiwan meeting

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen prepares to depart on an overseas trip Wednesday at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan. (AP/Johnson Lai)

BEIJING -- China threatened retaliation on Wednesday if U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy meets with Taiwan's president during her upcoming trip through Los Angeles.

President Tsai Ing-wen left Taiwan on Wednesday afternoon on a tour of the island's diplomatic allies in the Americas which she framed as a chance to demonstrate Taiwan's commitment to democratic values on the world stage.

Tsai arrived in New York later in the day and was scheduled to spend today in the city before heading to Guatemala and Belize. She is expected to stop in Los Angeles on her way back to Taiwan on April 5, when a meeting with McCarthy is tentatively scheduled.

The planned meeting has triggered fears of a heavy-handed Chinese reaction amid heightened friction between Beijing and Washington over U.S. support for Taiwan and trade and human-rights issues.

The spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhu Fenglian, denounced Tsai's stopovers and demanded that no U.S. officials meet with her.

"We firmly oppose this and will take resolute countermeasures," Zhu said at a news conference. The U.S. should "refrain from arranging Tsai Ing-wen's transit visits and even contact with American officials and take concrete actions to fulfill its solemn commitment not to support Taiwan independence," she said.

Beijing claims self-governing Taiwan is part of its territory and threatens to bring the island under its control by force if necessary.

Speaking later Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China will "closely follow the development of the situation and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Mao said the United States was "conducting dangerous activities that undermine the political foundation of bilateral ties."

McCarthy, a Republican from California, has said he will meet with Tsai when she is in the U.S. and has not ruled out the possibility of traveling to Taiwan in a show of support.

After a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in 2022, Beijing launched missiles over the area, deployed warships across the median line of the Taiwan Strait and carried out military exercises in a simulated blockade of the island. Beijing also suspended climate talks with the U.S. and restricted military-to-military communication with the Pentagon.

Tsai told reporters before boarding her plane that "I want to tell the whole world democratic Taiwan will resolutely safeguard the values of freedom and democracy and will continue to be a force for good in the world, continuing a cycle of goodness, strengthening the resilience of democracy in the world."

Beijing has recently ramped up diplomatic pressure against Taiwan by poaching its dwindling number of diplomatic allies while also sending military fighter jets flying toward the island on a near-daily basis. Earlier this month, Honduras established diplomatic relations with China, leaving Taiwan with only 13 countries that recognize it as a sovereign state.

U.S. administration officials in a call with reporters ahead of Tsai's arrival underscored that her transit is in line with what she and her predecessors have done in the past. Tsai has made six transits through the U.S. -- stopovers that have included meetings with members of Congress and members of the Taiwanese diaspora -- during her presidency.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive visit, said Tsai is also expected to meet with American Institute in Taiwan chair Laura Rosenberger. AIT is the U.S. government-run nonprofit that carries out unofficial relations with Taiwan.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island's decades-old unofficial independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don't support. Pelosi was the highest-ranking elected American official to visit the island since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997. Under its "one China" policy, the U.S. acknowledges Beijing's view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan, but considers Taiwan's status as unsettled. Taiwan is an important partner for Washington in the Indo-Pacific.

Information for this article was contributed by Huizhong Wu and Aamer Madhani of The Associated Press.