The newly-elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy plans to travel to Chinese Taipei, reports say, in what would renew tensions with China.
Media reports said on Tuesday that the US Defense Department was preparing for McCarthy’s visit to Taipei this spring.
If McCarthy does go on to travel to Taipei, it would be the second trip to the self-ruled island by a US House speaker in less than a year, sparking almost back-to-back escalation with China, which has sovereignty over Taipei. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island in August last year, bypassing Beijing diplomatically and establishing direct contact with Taipei to plan the trip.
That angered China, which issued statements critical of Pelosi and the US and staged large military exercises in waters near the island to assert its sovereignty.
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait reached levels not seen in three decades with live-fire drills in several areas around the island.
McCarthy’s possible visit could also waste any gains from a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit last November, which was intended to pave the way for improved relations between the two nations after Pelosi’s visit.
International relations analysts with Eurasia Group told media that the news of McCarthy’s visit to Chinese Taipei was no surprise because the new House speaker would want to “maintain domestic political legitimacy in the face of bipartisan support for aggressive policy toward China.”
While the Biden administration had reservations about Pelosi’s trip before it took place, the administration ultimately decided against forestalling it.
Analysts at the Eurasia Group agreed, however, that a second official visit by a US speaker “does represent an escalation of what Beijing sees as US interference in cross-strait affairs,” even though McCarthy, a Republican, may not be seen as representing official White House policy.
China has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei, and under the “One China” policy, virtually all world countries — including the US — recognize that sovereignty, meaning they are required by diplomatic protocol to refrain from establishing direct diplomatic contact with the self-proclaimed government in Taipei.
In violation of its own stated policy, however, Washington has long courted Taipei, and its secessionist president Tsai Ing-wen, in part to unnerve Beijing.