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Taiwan leader meets US Speaker despite China warnings

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has hosted Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California, becoming the most senior US figure to meet a Taiwanese leader on US soil in decades and stressed the need to speed up arms deliveries to Taiwan in the face of increasing threats from China.

Mr McCarthy – the third highest ranking official in the US leadership hierarchy – and other Republican and Democratic lawmakers met Ms Tsai at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on Wednesday (US time), despite threats of retaliation from China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own.

The Chinese foreign ministry quickly denounced the meeting, accusing the US of colluding with separatists seeking “Taiwan independence” and saying that it has been breaching its commitments over the island.

Ms Tsai thanked the US Congress for standing by Taiwan when democracy was under threat and said she had cited former US president Ronald Reagan in telling Mr McCarthy and other Republican and Democratic lawmakers of her belief that “to preserve peace, we must be strong”.

“I would like to add that we are stronger when we are together,” she said standing side-by-side with Mr McCarthy.

The meeting came at a time of deteriorating US-Chinese relations and rising concern among Western officials that China could attempt to take Taiwan by force in the coming years.

China has vowed to bring Taiwan under its control, and staged war games around the island last August following a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On Wednesday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said a Chinese aircraft carrier group was in the waters off the island’s south-east coast before the meeting between Ms Tsai and Mr McCarthy.

While Washington does not have official relations with Taiwan, it is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself and has stepped up interactions with Taipei in recent years as Beijing’s pressure on the island has increased.

Standing with Ms Tsai, Mr McCarthy called the US-Taiwan friendship “a matter of profound importance to the free world”.

Speaking at a later news conference alongside Republican and Democratic lawmakers who took part in the meeting with Ms Tsai, Mr McCarthy said they had discussed how to speed up weapons deliveries to Taiwan.

“We must continue the arms sales to Taiwan and make sure such sales reach Taiwan on a very timely basis,” he said, adding he believed there was bipartisan agreement on this.

“Second, we must strengthen our economic co-operation, particularly with trade and technology.”

Supporters waving Taiwanese flags and pro-Taiwan and Hong Kong banners chanted “Jiayou Taiwan” – the equivalent of “Go Taiwan” – outside the Reagan Library. A small plane flew overhead towing a pro-Beijing banner saying “One China! Taiwan is part of China!”

China repeatedly warned against the meeting between Mr McCarthy and Ms Tsai, who was on her first US stopover since 2019, although some analysts expected its reaction to be more moderate than that to Pelosi’s Taipei visit.

The California meeting was seen as a potentially less provocative alternative to Mr McCarthy visiting Taiwan, something he has said he hopes to do.

– AAP

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