(Simi Valley) Republican Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California on Wednesday, despite repeated threats of retaliation from China.

Pro-Beijing and pro-Taiwan protesters faced off outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in the city of Simi Valley as the leader arrived, officially in ‘transit’ from the United States on her way home after touring Latin America.

This meeting greatly irritates Beijing, the Chinese authorities having promised to “retaliate” and multiplying angry statements in recent weeks.

China considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces to be taken back, favoring “peaceful reunification”, but without excluding the use of force. In the name of its “One China” principle, no country is supposed to maintain official ties with Beijing and Taipei at the same time.

In a final warning on Monday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs recalled that “China is firmly opposed” to the interview between the third figure of the American state and the Taiwanese leader, from an independence party.

Beijing also explained that it was ready to “firmly defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity”, without expressly mentioning possible military maneuvers.

The United States has a long-standing “strategic ambiguity” on the Taiwan issue. This doctrine aims as much to deter China from invading Taiwan as to prevent the island’s leaders from provoking Beijing by officially declaring its independence.

Washington has recognized Beijing since 1979, but remains Taiwan’s strongest ally and main arms supplier. Support for the island is one of the few bipartisan consensuses in the US Congress and under Tsai Ing-wen’s tenure, Taiwan has moved closer to the United States.

Last August, the Taiwanese president received in Taiwan the democrat Nancy Pelosi, at the head of the House of Representatives before Mr. McCarthy.

This visit had provoked the ire of Beijing, which had carried out military exercises around the island on an unprecedented scale since the mid-1990s.

Kevin McCarthy “still wants to play the Taiwan card” in order to contain Beijing, the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles said in a statement on Monday. “He will no doubt make the same mistake again, which will further damage the China-US relationship. »

Like Ms. Pelosi, the Republican leader initially wanted to visit Taiwan. He ultimately opted for a less direct approach, meeting Tsai Ing-wen with several congressmen in suburban Los Angeles.

The Biden administration has also downplayed the meeting, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken recalling on Wednesday that it was only a “transit” of the Taiwanese leader and not an official visit. He called on Beijing not to use the interview as an “excuse” to “escalate tensions”.

“China’s response will depend in part […] on what McCarthy says publicly after the meeting,” said AFP Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the American think tank German Marshall Fund.

But for this specialist, the rhetoric used by Beijing at the time of the meeting with Ms. Pelosi, forces the Chinese government to flex its muscles again.

“China has already made quite threatening statements, which suggests that it must respond one way or another,” she said. Without a strong reaction, Chinese President “Xi Jinping risks appearing weak. »

For his part, Tsai Ing-wen, whose presidential term ends next year, seeks to show that Beijing has failed to diplomatically isolate Taiwan since it came to power in 2016.

China has convinced several countries to no longer recognize Taiwan in recent years. The latest, Honduras announced its decision at the end of March.

Only 13 states still recognize Taiwan, including Belize and Guatemala, which Ms. Tsai visited on her tour, after a first stop in New York. Before handing over, the leader wishes to cement the confidence of the Taiwanese in her formation, the Democratic Progressive Party.

“She wants to show her fellow citizens […] that she has created a solid, strong and unprecedented relationship of trust with the United States, which is very important for Taiwan’s security,” Ms. Glaser concluded.