(TAIPEI, Taiwan) — China’s foreign ministry condemned a meeting in Los Angeles between Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen and the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, describing it as “acts of collusion” and vowing to defend its sovereignty. It marks the first time a Taiwanese leader had ever met a house speaker on American soil since both governments severed diplomatic ties in 1979.
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has not ruled out taking Taiwan by force. The U.S., on the other hand, abides by the “one-China” policy but it does not endorse China’s claim to the self-ruled island.
Since the meeting, which marked the first time a Taiwanese leader had ever met a house speaker on American soil, Beijing has sent warships into the waters around Taiwan.
But the response has been relatively muted so far compared with the unprecedented drills China launched after former house speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August. At that time, China even fired missiles over the island.
The question is, could China be waiting for Tsai to return home on Friday? It is possible, according to the front page of the Taipei Times on Thursday which said the “military is closely watching” for Chinese drills.
But some experts say the lack of fiery response so far could be a sign of China switching tack.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been trying to project a statesman-like image and that he is trying to convey a China that is respectable on the world’s stage, especially after some recent diplomatic wins like brokering the Saudi-Iran deal.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuelle Macron is in China, the former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou is in China and any North Korea-like response would probably jar with any desired optics of Xi as an esteemed diplomat.
One Chinese scholar in Beijing told ABC News on the condition of anonymity that China has learned its lessons from the bad PR it received after launching unprecedented drills during Pelosi’s visit. He said the drills were “costly” and “a joke” to the Taiwanese and even the local mainland Chinese population. The drills may have backfired by reinforcing China’s image as a threat which could hurt China’s foreign relations and result in Taiwan’s allies sending in more delegations.
On Thursday another U.S. delegation touched down in Taipei. The group, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCauk, announced they would be meeting with Taiwanese officials and business leaders to discuss regional security and the threat of China.
It’s unclear whether that will fuel the fire further. It’s true that Pelosi’s visit last time, in the eye’s of China, would be perceived as an uninvited U.S. official entering its territory. That’s not the case this time which could be another reason for China to refrain.
That all said, China has issued some strong statements, before and after the Tsai meeting. Xi also wants to remain strong at home, and he can’t be giving the impression to his domestic audience that he’s letting Taiwan go around diplomatic hobnobbing with the likes of the U.S., especially when tensions with Washington are at an all time high.
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