Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen gestures while speaking during an event with members of the Taiwanese community, in New York, U.S., in this handout picture released March 30, 2023. (via Reuters)
Tsai-McCarthy Meeting Will Escalate US-China Tensions

Today, Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-Wen will meet House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum as part of her multi-day “transit” through the United States.

U.S. and Taiwanese officials hope to demonstrate America’s strong backing for Taiwan — and in doing so, discourage China from attempting to invade Taiwan in order to unify the island territory and the Chinese state. Yet it’s likely today’s meeting between Tsai and McCarthy will bring about the exact opposite of its intended effect, feeding a vicious circle of reaction and recrimination that is bringing the U.S. and China closer and closer to a crisis, and possible conflict, over Taiwan.

Under Tsai, Taiwanese leaders’ transits to America are becoming longer and including higher-level officials; as the third in line for the presidency, McCarthy will be the most senior official to ever meet a sitting Taiwanese leader on U.S. soil. The meeting comes days after Tsai quietly met with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in New York. Beijing certainly sees these high-profile visits as the latest evidence that Washington is moving closer to treating Taiwan as a nation state, violating the “One China” policy that has long guided America’s approach to the island and upheld peace and stability in the Taiwan strait.

Coming at a moment of high U.S.-China tensions, Tsai’s meetings with top congressional leaders are sure to trigger a show of resolve from Beijing intended to signal China’s military capabilities and discourage Washington from moving closer to recognizing Taiwan’s independence, or closing off the option of peaceful unification. This, in turn, will likely cause Washington to move even closer toward Taiwan in order to signal its stalwart support. And around and around we’ll go on a downward spiral toward the worst-case scenario: a direct U.S.-China military crisis or conflict over Taiwan.

Read the full piece in Responsible Statecraft.

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