BEIJING – As Taiwan's president began a stopover in the United States on her way to Central America, China said it was closely watching and would “resolutely safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary, and portrays the self-governing island democracy of 23 million people as the most sensitive issue in its increasingly fraught relationship with the U.S.
On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning reiterated China's furious objections to any meetings between Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. officials.
“China firmly opposes any form of official interaction between the U.S. and Taiwan,” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing. “China will continue to closely follow the situation and resolutely safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China has particularly warned that a meeting between Tsai and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, would bring a strong but unspecified response.
Neither Tsai nor McCarthy has formally confirmed a meeting. Tsai is scheduled to transit in Los Angeles on April 5.
In August, Beijing responded to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan by launching missiles, deploying warships across the median line of the Taiwan Strait and simulating a blockade of the island. China also temporarily suspended dialogue with the U.S. on climate and other major issues and restricted military-to-military communication with the Pentagon.
Tsai's visit aims to show that Taiwan still has allies, despite China's military threats and attempts to isolate it diplomatically. Most recently, the Central American state of Honduras switched relations from Taiwan to China, leaving Taiwan with just 13 formal diplomatic allies. Tsai accused Beijing of using “dollar diplomacy” to poach another Taiwanese ally.
Tsai is expected to meet with the American Institute in Taiwan chair, Laura Rosenberger. AIT is the U.S. government-run nonprofit that carries out unofficial relations with Taiwan.
While the U.S. terms relations with Taiwan as unofficial, it is the island's chief source of military hardware and cooperation. U.S. law requires Washington to treat all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern,” but does not explicitly say whether the U.S. would commit troops.
Tsai arrived in New York on Wednesday and was scheduled to spend Thursday in the city, but few details of the trip were made public.
The U.S. typically foregoes any official meetings involving senior U.S. leaders in Washington for transit stops, as is the case for Tsai's visit.
The latest spike in tensions comes months after the passage of what the U.S. said was a Chinese spy balloon across the continental U.S., which heightened questions about China's intentions. China says it was a research balloon that was blown off course, but the Biden administration ordered it shot down and canceled a planned visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China.
Along with Taiwan and friction over trade, technology and human rights, China’s close ties with Russia and its refusal to criticize Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine have also increased tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, underscoring the warmth of the "no-limits” relationship between the two authoritarian states announced just weeks before Russia's year-old invasion.
China has provided Russia with an economic lifeline by buying the oil-rich country's resources. U.S. officials say they've seen indications Beijing is considering selling military hardware to Moscow, although they say there is no evidence that has happened yet.
Days after Xi's visit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Associated Press he hopes to meet with Xi in Kyiv. China, which has put forward a peace proposal that says nothing about Russia withdrawing from Ukrainian territory it has seized, gave no immediate response about whether such a visit would take place.
Also Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Tan Kefei said Xi and Putin had reached “a number of important new points of consensus” during their Moscow meetings, laying out a "blueprint for the future of relations."
“Strategic communication and practical cooperation between the two militaries have never ceased moving toward a higher level,” Tan said at a monthly briefing.
While Tan repeated China's stance that its relations with Russia do not constitute a formal alliance and were not aimed at any third parties, the two have increasingly aligned their foreign policies in a challenge to the dominance of global affairs by the U.S. and other democracies.
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 safeguard international fairness and justice."
China has been steadily building up its 2 million-member armed forces — already the world's largest standing military — as well as latest-generation fighter jets, aircraft carriers and highly capable warships.
U.S. military officials also say China is rapidly expanding its stockpile of nuclear weapons and recent tough talk by Xi and other Chinese officials has heightened concerns over a potential attack on Taiwan or other U.S. interests.