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Tsai says in New York US and Taiwan ‘closer than ever’

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has said during a stopover in New York that the relationship between Taiwan and the United States “is closer than ever”.

March 31, 2023
31 March 2023

The US and Taiwan are closer than ever, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has told supporters during a stopover in New York that so far, according to Taipei officials, has not triggered unusual military actions by China.

Tsai arrived in New York on Wednesday on her way to central America, and on her way back to Taipei next week will stop in Los Angeles where she is expected to meet US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, an interaction China has warned could lead to a “serious confrontation” in US-China relations.

The visit comes at a time when US relations with China are at what some analysts see as their worst level since the US normalised ties with China in 1979 and switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan.

China says Taiwan belongs to “one China” and, as a Chinese province, has no right to state-to-state ties. 

Taiwan disputes this.

On what is her first US stopover since 2019, Tsai touted Taiwan’s economic, security and diplomatic achievements in a closed-door speech on Wednesday night to overseas Taiwanese in New York, her office said in a statement on Thursday, calling the island a “beacon of democracy in Asia”.

“In particular, the relationship between Taiwan and the United States is closer than ever,” she said, noting “significant progress” in economic and security co-operation.

Tsai said Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd, the world’s largest contract chipmaker, establishing a factory in Phoenix, Arizona, demonstrated the island’s technological strength.

Though Taiwan faced “enormous challenges,” it would not be isolated, Tsai said.

She also thanked the US government for implementing security agreements with Taiwan, including nine announced arms sales by President Joe Biden’s administration.

Tsai was due to speak at a Hudson Institute think tank event on Thursday, according to sources, but Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the US has said all of her engagements in New York are closed to the press and public.

Taiwan’s defence ministry, in its daily update on China’s military activities, said that from Wednesday to Thursday morning it had not spotted any Chinese aircraft entering Taiwan’s air defence zone or crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which serves as an unofficial barrier.

China’s air force flies almost daily into the air defence zone, or across the median line, in which Taiwan calls “grey zone” warfare designed to test and wear out its forces.

A senior Taiwan security official said earlier that the island expects a less severe reaction from China to a Tsai-McCarthy meeting than when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei last year, something that prompted China to stage major military drills.

“She will be meeting in the United States, so the political complexity is not as high as the speaker coming to Taiwan,” Taiwan National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Ming-yen told Taiwan’s parliament.

He added that Taiwan had been conducting dry runs on responses to a rise in tensions while the president is away, including when she is flying and that she can be reached at any time to meet her top security officials.

A meeting with McCarthy would be the first between a Taiwanese leader and a US House Speaker on US soil although it is seen as a potentially less provocative alternative to McCarthy visiting Taiwan, something he has said he hopes to do.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian said in Beijing on Wednesday that if Tsai met with McCarthy, China would “definitely take measures to resolutely fight back” and Xu Xueyuan, charge d’affaires at China’s Washington DC embassy, said such a meeting “could lead to another serious confrontation in the China-US relationship”.

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