For Taiwan, the rare high-level, bipartisan meeting is a timely show of US support, as China ramps up diplomatic and military pressure on the self-ruling island it claims as part of its territory.
But the encounter also carries great risks: the last time Tsai met with a US House Speaker – during Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei last August, Beijing retaliated by holding days of large-scale military drills and firing missiles over the island, pushing tensions to their highest in decades.
This time around, Beijing’s initial reaction appears more restrained. Its Foreign Ministry has condemned the meeting and pledged to take “strong and resolute measures,” though so far that has not translated into any specific military response.
To avoid provoking Beijing and triggering another military crisis, American and Taiwan officials have portrayed Tsai’s visit as nothing out of the ordinary, citing an abundance of precedents for a Taiwan leader to transit through the US.
But the political significance of Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy is unavoidable. It is the highest-level audience a sitting Taiwan president has received on American soil, with an official second in line to the presidency after the vice president.
Their meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library highlighted the strengthening ties between Taipei and Washington, even though they remain unofficial in nature.