Taiwan president says Chinese threats will not deter her during US stopover

China has warned of retaliation if Tsai Ing-wen meets House of Representatives speaker Kevin McCarthy, but the Taiwan leader says she will ‘neither yield nor provoke’, writes Denis Staunton

Taiwan’s president has brushed off Beijing’s threat of retaliation if she meets House of Representatives speaker Kevin McCarthy when she touches down in the United States this week. China has warned it will view any meetings between Tsai Ing-wen and senior US politicians as a provocation that harms its sovereignty.

“External pressure will not hinder our determination to go to the world,” Ms Tsai said as she left Taipei.

“We are calm and confident, will neither yield nor provoke. Taiwan will firmly walk on the road of freedom and democracy and go into the world. Although this road is rough, Taiwan is not alone.”

Ms Tsai is travelling to Guatemala and Belize, two of just 13 states that have diplomatic relations with Taipei, transiting through New York on the way out and Los Angeles on the way back. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing would “definitely take measures to resolutely fight back” if she meets Mr McCarthy.


When Mr McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August, Beijing staged unprecedented military and naval exercises that encircled the island. The US, in common with almost every state in the world, recognises the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China and does not officially support Taiwanese independence, although it “acknowledges” rather than “recognises” Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over the island.

“We firmly oppose any visit by a leader of the Taiwan authorities to the US in any name or under whatever pretext. And we firmly oppose the US having any form of contact with the Taiwan authorities, which violates the one-China principle,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Wednesday.

“The trip is not so much a transit, but an attempt to seek breakthroughs and propagate Taiwan independence. The issue is not about China overreacting, but the US egregiously conniving at and supporting Taiwan independence separatists.”

The row over Ms Tsai’s trip came as former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou called during a visit to mainland China for talks between Beijing and Taipei on how to avoid war over the island’s future. Mr Ma’s 12-day visit is the first by a former Taiwanese president since the island split from mainland China in 1949.

In 2015, Mr Ma was the first serving Taiwanese president to meet a serving president of the People’s Republic of China when he shook Xi Jinping’s hand at a meeting in Singapore. Mr Ma’s Kuomintang (KMT), which favours more economic co-operation and political dialogue with Beijing, made gains in local elections in Taiwan last year and hopes to recapture the presidency next year.

Mr Ma on Wednesday visited a memorial to the victims of the 1937 Nanjing massacre in which Japanese soldiers murdered at least 200,000 Chinese civilians and committed more than 20,000 rapes. He said the massacre had lessons for today and that people on both sides of the Taiwan strait should be self-reliant and not allow themselves to be bullied or invaded.

“We should maintain a very benevolent heart and not invade others. This is the best lesson we can get from this process,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times