China renews warnings as Taiwan’s Tsai pauses in US

BEIJING — When Taiwan’s president stopped in the United States on her way to Central America, China said it was watching closely and would “resolutely uphold our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

China claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary, and presents the self-governing island democracy of 23 million people as the hottest issue in its increasingly strained relationship with the US

On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning reiterated China’s strong objections to meetings between Tsai Ing-wen and US officials.

“China firmly opposes any form of official interaction between the US and Taiwan,” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing. “China will continue to monitor the situation closely and resolutely protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

China has specifically warned that a meeting between Tsai and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, would provoke a strong but unspecified reaction.

Neither Tsai nor McCarthy have officially confirmed a meeting. Tsai is scheduled to transfer in Los Angeles on April 5.

PHOTOS: China renews warnings as Taiwan’s Tsai pauses in US

In August, Beijing responded to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan by firing missiles, sending warships across the Taiwan Strait centerline and simulating a blockade of the island. China has also temporarily suspended dialogue with the US on climate and other important issues, and restricted military-to-military communications with the Pentagon.

Tsai’s visit aims to show that Taiwan still has allies, despite China’s military threats and attempts to diplomatically isolate it. Recently, the Central American state of Honduras shifted its ties from Taiwan to China, leaving Taiwan with only 13 formal diplomatic allies. Tsai accused Beijing of using “dollar diplomacy” to poach another Taiwanese ally.

Tsai is expected to meet with the Chair of the American Institute in Taiwan, Laura Rosenberger. AIT is the US government-run non-profit organization that has unofficial ties with Taiwan.

While the US describes relations with Taiwan as unofficial, it is the island’s main source of military equipment and cooperation. US law requires Washington to treat any threats to the island as “serious concern” but does not specifically say whether the US would send troops.

Tsai arrived in New York on Wednesday and was due to spend Thursday in the city, but few details of the trip have been released.

The US usually foregoes official meetings with senior US leaders in Washington for transit stops, as is the case with Tsai’s visit.

The latest spike in tensions comes months after the passage of what the US said was a Chinese spy balloon over the continental US, raising questions about China’s intentions. China says it was a research balloon that went off course, but the Biden administration ordered it launched and canceled a planned visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China.

In addition to Taiwan and tensions over trade, technology and human rights, China’s close ties with Russia and its refusal to criticize Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine have heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week and underscored the warmth of the “borderless” relationship between the two authoritarian states, which were announced just weeks before Russia’s year-long invasion.

China has given Russia an economic lifeline by buying the oil-rich country’s resources. US officials say they have seen signs Beijing is considering selling military hardware to Moscow, although they say there is no evidence of this yet.

Days after Xi’s visit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Associated Press he hoped to meet Xi in Kyiv. China, which has presented a peace proposal that says nothing about a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory it has seized, did not immediately respond as to whether such a visit would take place.

Also on Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said Tan Kefei, Xi and Putin had reached “a number of important new consensus points” at their meetings in Moscow and drafted a “blueprint for the future of the relationship.”

“Strategic communication and practical cooperation between the two militaries have never stopped moving to a higher level,” Tan said at a monthly briefing.

While Tan reiterated China’s stance that its relations with Russia do not constitute a formal alliance and are not aimed at third parties, the two have increasingly focused their foreign policies on challenging the dominance of the US and other democracies in global affairs.

He also pledged regular joint air and sea patrols, exercises and training as the two countries work together to “implement global security initiatives (and) jointly ensure international fairness and justice.”

China has steadily built up its 2 million-strong armed forces – already the largest standing military in the world – as well as the latest generation fighter jets, aircraft carriers and high-performance warships.

US military officials also say China is rapidly expanding its stockpile of nuclear weapons, and recent tough talks by Xi and other Chinese officials have heightened concerns about a possible attack on Taiwan or other US interests.

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