US calls Tsai transit 'nothing new', urges China to not react aggressively
By Michael Martina and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Expected U.S. stopovers in coming weeks by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen are standard practice and China should not use them as a pretext for aggressive action toward the democratically governed island, a senior U.S. administration official said.
Tsai plans to transit through New York and Los Angeles as part of a trip to Central America, and sources have told Reuters that U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy intends to meet her during the California leg of her visit.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, has said it is "seriously concerned" about Tsai's travel plans.
But the senior U.S. official told reporters on a call on Monday night that every president of Taiwan had transited through the U.S., and that Tsai has done so herself six times since taking office 2016, most recently in 2019.
She had met members of Congress during all of those visits, the official added, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had limited her travel in more recent years.
"We see no reason for Beijing to turn this transit, again, which is consistent with long-standing U.S. policy, into anything but what it is. It should not be used as a pretext to step up any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait," the official said.
The official said Washington had communicated to Beijing that Tsai's stopovers are in keeping with past precedent.
"There is nothing new from our point of view," the official said.
Noting that President Joe Biden hoped to speak to Chinese leader Xi Jinping soon and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would like to reschedule a postponed trip to Beijing, the official said: "We urge the PRC (People's Republic of China) to keep these channels of communication open."
"In terms of contact with McCarthy's office, we offer briefings to members before engagements. We tend to do that before travel, before meetings. We've had some regular contact there," the official added.
Tsai's anticipated U.S. meeting with McCarthy is seen as a potential alternative to a sensitive visit by the Republican Speaker to Taiwan, a trip he has said he hopes to make.
China staged military exercises around Taiwan in August following a visit to Taipei by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial issue and a major bone of contention with Washington, which maintains only unofficial ties with Taipei, but is required by U.S. law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
China believes the United States is colluding with Taiwan to challenge Beijing and giving support to those who want the island to declare formal independence.
Taiwan's government says the People's Republic of China has never ruled the island and so has no right to claim it, and that only its 23 million people can decide their future.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Steve Holland; Editing by Stephen Coates)