(Taipei) China promised on Wednesday to “retaliate” if the Taiwanese president meets Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy during a trip to the United States and Central America aimed at strengthening the island’s diplomatic ties with his allies.

President Tsai Ing-wen is stopping in New York on Wednesday, before traveling to Guatemala and Belize, then will stop in California after returning from that trip, where Mr. McCarthy said he will meet her.

Beijing warned on Wednesday that it was “resolutely opposed” to such a meeting, promising to take “firm measures to retaliate” if it took place.

China considers the autonomous island as one of its provinces and intends to take it back by force if necessary. In the name of its “one China” principle, no country is supposed to maintain official ties with Beijing and Taipei at the same time.

Such a meeting would be considered “ a new provocation that will seriously violate the one-China principle, undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait ”, said Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing.

“External pressure will not hinder our determination” to be active on the international scene, said Ms. Tsai before leaving Taiwan.

During this ten-day trip, Ms. Tsai is to meet with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Belize Prime Minister John Briceno.

Belize and Guatemala are among the last 13 countries to officially recognize Taiwan over Beijing, after Honduras established diplomatic ties with China on Sunday.

Ms. Tsai will stop in Los Angeles on her way back to Taiwan. Mr. McCarthy said he would meet her, which Taiwanese authorities have not confirmed.

In 2022, a visit to Taiwan by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, sparked the ire of Beijing.

“There is absolutely no reason for China to use this as a pretext to overreact or engage in increased coercion against Taiwan,” a senior US official said Wednesday.

But for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Washington “ is blindly in collusion with Taiwan and supports the independence and secessionist forces ” of the island.

Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning on Wednesday urged the United States to cease all forms of official exchange with Taiwan and to “stop […] undermining the political foundations of Sino-American relations”.

Beijing has increased military, economic and diplomatic pressure on the island since Ms Tsai came to power in 2016, and has since reclaimed nine of its diplomatic allies.

“Beijing’s attempts to seize Taiwan’s diplomatic partners will lead Taiwan to develop closer ties with the United States,” said James Lee, a specialist in US-Taiwanese relations at the Sinica Academy in Taiwan.

Washington, which nevertheless granted diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979, is the island’s most powerful ally as well as its main arms supplier.

According to Mr. Lee, “ the loss of official relations with third countries will be compensated by the deepening of Taiwan’s unofficial relations ”.

One of Ms. Tsai’s main opponents in Taiwan, former President Ma Ying-jeou, was in China on Wednesday, where he called on “both sides” to “avoid war and pursue peace”. This is the first such trip for a former Taiwanese leader.

Latin America, where China has increased its investments, has become strategic ground in the diplomatic battle that has pitted Taipei against Beijing since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Taipei on Sunday denounced China’s “ coercion and intimidation ” to take away its allies, after the official announcement in Beijing of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and China.

Besides Guatemala and Belize, Taiwan still maintains diplomatic relations with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Paraguay and Haiti, but also with Pacific island nations and the Vatican.