Texas senator Ted Cruz met with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen in Houston yesterday (Jan. 8) as she stopped over in the US on her way to diplomatic visits with allies in Central America.
As expected, the meeting drew the wrath of Beijing, which treats Taiwan as a breakaway province even though the island has been governed as an independent country and has held democratic elections for decades. But Cruz’s comments about Tsai’s visit are sure to anger China even further.
Cruz revealed in a statement that before the meeting with Tsai, the Houston congressional delegation had received “a curious letter” from the Chinese consulate asking the politicians to not meet with Tsai and to “uphold the ‘One-China Policy.'”
In a sharp rebuke to Beijing’s request, Cruz effectively told China to stay out of America’s business with Taiwan:
The People’s Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves. This is not about the PRC. This is about the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, an ally we are legally bound to defend. The Chinese do not give us veto power over those with whom they meet. We will continue to meet with anyone, including the Taiwanese, as we see fit.
Previous Taiwanese presidents have stopped over in the US and met with politicians in the past, but Tsai’s visit this time is under added scrutiny in light of recent ruptures in the US-China relationship over Taiwan. Trump and Tsai spoke on the telephone after his election victory, and later Trump suggested in a tweet that the US does not have to be bound by the one-China policy, the first such comments made by a US president or president-elect since Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. Trump’s moves have antagonized China, which has ratcheted up military tensions in neighboring waters in recent weeks.
Tsai’s administration said that she would not be meeting anyone (link in Chinese) from the Trump team.
Tsai will stop over in San Francisco on her way back to Taiwan after she visits allies in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Taiwan is more eager than ever to maintain ties with those countries after the small island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe recently switched its alliance from Taipei to Beijing, much to the latter’s delight.
Despite his warm reception of Tsai, Cruz’s delegation made two mistakes. The US is not “legally” bound to defend Taiwan as Cruz said in his statement, but rather, under the Taiwan Relations Act that governs relations between the US and Taiwan, the US is required to provide assistance to Taiwan if it is attacked by China, though the terms of its assistance are left deliberately ambiguous. The congressional delegation also gave Tsai a “clock bearing the Texas State Seal”—a taboo in Chinese culture, where the word for “giving a clock” sounds like the one for “preparing funeral rites.”