China deploys warships near Taiwan after Tsai-McCarthy meeting

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will meet in his home state of California with Taiwan's pr

China deployed warships through waters around Taiwan on Thursday as it vowed a “firm and forceful” response to the island’s president meeting US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen held talks with McCarthy in Los Angeles on Wednesday, expressing gratitude afterwards for the meeting, which included other US lawmakers.

“Their presence and unwavering support reassure the people of Taiwan that we are not isolated and we are not alone,” Tsai told reporters.

China had repeatedly warned both sides that the meeting should not take place, and deployed an aircraft carrier through waters southeast of Taiwan hours before the talks.

Three additional warships were detected in waters separating the island from mainland China and an anti-submarine helicopter crossed Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, Taipei’s Ministry of National Defence said on Thursday morning.

China also deployed coastguard vessels for unusual patrols that sparked a protest from Taiwan.

Despite Taiwan having been ruled separately for more than 70 years, China views it as part of its territory and has vowed to seize it one day, by force if necessary.

Tensions flared around the island last August, following a visit to the island by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.

China then deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan, its largest show of force in years.

Its response to the McCarthy meeting has so far been on a much lower level, but still left Taiwan on high alert.

Tsai said face-to-face meetings with US officials were important for “regional peace” and called on Beijing to remain calm.

“I also hope the Chinese side can exercise self- restraint and don’t overreact,” she said at a pre-departure press briefing in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Taiwan’s defence minister described the timing of the deployment of the Shandong, one of just two Chinese aircraft carriers, as “sensitive” and that Taiwan was monitoring activity around the vessel.

When asked if Shandong’s deployment was a prelude to Chinese military exercises, Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters: “We are not ruling this out”.

The United States called Thursday on China “to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful diplomacy”.

“We remain committed to maintaining open channels of communication so as to prevent the risk of any kind of miscalculation,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

‘Unwavering support’

Tsai’s visit to California was technically a stop-over after a trip to Latin America to see two of Taiwan’s dwindling band of official diplomatic allies.

China had repeatedly issued warnings ahead of the Tsai-McCarthy meeting and issued another strong rebuke Thursday afternoon.

“China will take firm and forceful measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular briefing.

McCarthy, who is second in line for the US presidency, had originally planned to go to Taiwan himself but opted instead to meet Tsai in California.

The decision was viewed as a compromise that would underscore support for Taiwan but avoid inflaming tensions with China, a move analysts say has so far proven successful.

McCarthy said after meeting Tsai that a shared belief in freedom and democracy underpinned a relationship that was “a matter of profound importance to the free world”.

McCarthy vowed US arms sales to Taiwan — which infuriate Chinese leadership — would continue, in what he said was a proven strategy to dissuade aggression.

“And what we know through history, the best way to do that is supply the weapons that allow people to deter war,” he said.

“It is a critical lesson that we learned through Ukraine, that the idea of just sanctions in the future is not going to stop somebody” who wants to wage war.

China pressure

There were no initial signs of extra military activity on Thursday morning on Pingtan Island in southeastern China — home to a People’s Liberation Army base and one of the closest points on the mainland to Taiwan.

AFP journalists on Pingtan last year had witnessed missile launches and army helicopters flying over the island following Pelosi’s visit.

However, Taipei’s top China policy-making body, the Mainland Affairs Council, said Chinese coast guard vessels were “obstructing” trade by carrying out on-site inspections on cargo and passenger ships.

Taiwanese vessels have been ordered to refuse the inspection demands, National Security Bureau deputy director general Ko Cheng-heng said on Thursday.

Before her return trip from the United States on Thursday, Tsai said her national security team was “closely monitoring the situation” to ensure the safety of its ships “and to prevent China’s interference in our territorial waters”.


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