By Hussein Waaile, Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard
NEW YORK/TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan has remained calm in the face of China “deliberately” raising tensions, President Tsai Ing-wen told an event during a stopover in New York that so far, according to Taipei and Washington, 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 U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, an interaction China has warned could lead to a “serious confrontation” in U.S.-China relations.
The visit comes at a time when U.S. relations with China are at what some analysts see as their worst level since Washington normalized ties with Beijing in 1979 and switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei.
Beijing says Taiwan belongs to “one China” and, as a Chinese province, has no right to state-to-state ties. Taiwan disputes this.
Tsai, on her first U.S. stopover since 2019, told an event held by the Hudson Institute think tank that the fault for raising tensions lay with China, according to excerpts of her comments reported by Taiwan’s official Central News Agency.
“China deliberately raises tensions, but Taiwan always responds cautiously and calmly, so that the world can see that Taiwan is the responsible party in cross-Strait relations,” the agency cited her saying.
“The people of Taiwan look forward to peace, but history tells us that the best way to avoid war is to make ourselves stronger,” Tsai said at the event, where she received a leadership award.
An unstable Taiwan Strait will bring the world serious economic and security risks, and it is important for all countries to maintain peace and stability in the region, she added.
Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the U.S. has said all of her engagements in New York are closed to media and public.
NO CHINESE MILITARY ACTION
Taiwan’s defense 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 defense 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 defense 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 Beijing 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.
The White House, which urged China on Wednesday not to use Tsai’s “normal” stopover in the U.S. as a pretext to increase aggressive activity against Taiwan, also said it had seen “no tangible reaction” yet from China.
“I think we’ve all seen them react in a rhetorical way, but we’ve seen no indication that there’s been any other type of reaction,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.
A meeting with McCarthy would be the first between a Taiwanese leader and a U.S. House Speaker on U.S. soil, although it is seen as a potentially less provocative alternative to McCarthy visiting Taiwan, something he has said he hopes to do.
As House speaker, McCarthy is third in the U.S. leadership succession hierarchy. China has repeatedly warned U.S. officials not to meet Tsai, seeing it as showing support for the island’s desire to be recognized as a separate country.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said in Beijing on Wednesday that if Tsai met with McCarthy, China would “definitely take measures to resolutely fight back”.
Xu Xueyuan, charge d’affaires at China’s Washington embassy, said such a meeting “could lead to another serious confrontation in the China-U.S. relationship.”
Washington, like most countries, maintains only unofficial ties with Taipei, but U.S. law requires the government to provide the island with the means to defend itself and it facilitates unofficial stopover visits.
The U.S. transit is Tsai’s seventh since taking office in 2016 and comes amid concerns in the U.S. and elsewhere that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might embolden China to move against Taiwan.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Roger Tung, Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Michael Perry, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Josie Kao and Lincoln Feast.)