WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is urging China not to use a U.S. visit by Taiwan’s president to raise tensions, with a senior official saying the trip is consistent with previous ones that passed without incident.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen plans to stop in New York and Los Angeles in coming weeks on her way to and from formal visits to Guatemala and Belize. These stops, often called transits, are part of the strained diplomatic choreography over Taiwan and are intended to hew to a U.S. commitment to Beijing to maintain unofficial relations with Taiwan, while allowing its leaders to meet with supporters, including members of Congress.
Ms. Tsai is scheduled to land in New York late on the evening of March 29 and depart for Central America the night of March 31, Lin Yu-chan, a spokeswoman for Ms. Tsai, said at a press briefing in Taipei on Tuesday. Coming the other way, the Taiwanese leader plans to touch down in Los Angeles on the night of April 4 before returning to Taiwan two days later.
Taiwan presidents have made these transit visits through successive U.S. presidential administrations, the senior administration official said Monday. Ms. Tsai, since becoming president in 2016, made six such stops through 2019 “without incident and with minimal P.R.C response,” the official said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“We see no reason for Beijing to turn this transit, again which is consistent with long-standing U.S. policy, into anything other than what it is,” the administration official said. “It should not be used as a pretext to step up any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait.”
While seeking to head off potential fallout, the official’s remarks also underscore administration concerns that Ms. Tsai’s visit is likely to compound a recent downward spiral in relations, most recently over Beijing’s support for Russia during the Ukraine war.
Among the politicians planning to meet Ms. Tsai in the U.S. is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), who has championed a hardline on Beijing. She is also expected to give a speech in New York, Los Angeles or both, and meet with Taiwanese living in the U.S., officials said.
Alexander Yui Tah-ray, Taiwan’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said at Tuesday’s briefing that Ms. Tsai’s itinerary was still being discussed with the U.S. side and declined to confirm details of her stops in New York and California. He echoed the U.S. official’s assertion that such transits are routine.
Chinese officials have lodged pre-emptive protests with the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing over a visit by Ms. Tsai. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday that Beijing was opposed to any form of contact between U.S. and Taiwanese officials and called on Washington to “stop upgrading U.S.-Taiwan relations.”
Last week, in what some U.S. officials saw as a warning shot from Beijing, the president of Honduras, long a Taiwan diplomatic partner, said her country will switch formal relations to China. That move, if carried out, leaves Taiwan with 13 diplomatic partners, including the two Ms. Tsai will visit.
Ms. Tsai has no plans to visit Honduras on her current trip because the timing isn’t appropriate, according to Mr. Yui, hinting at disagreements between Taipei and Tegucigalpa over the degree of financial support Taiwan is willing to provide.
“We’re not going to play money games with the Communists,” he said, referring to Beijing’s practice of using investment and market access to lure away Taiwan’s diplomatic partners.
Mistrust between Washington and Beijing has soared in recent years, with Taiwan—a longstanding U.S. partner which China claims as its territory—at the center.
Beijing has stepped up military patrols around Taiwan, in part as a warning over rising U.S. support for the government. The Chinese military staged large exercises in August after Mr. McCarthy’s predecessor as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, (D., Calif.) became the highest level U.S. political figure to visit the island in 25 years.
Amid the recent strains, President Biden has said he expects to speak with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, though no such call has been scheduled, and Chinese officials suggest one may have to wait until after Ms. Tsai’s trip.
The senior administration official said that the U.S. side in its contacts with Chinese officials in Washington and Beijing has recited the history of past stop-offs by Taiwan presidents and said that Ms. Tsai’s visit is consistent with those.
In keeping with the past visits, the official said, Ms. Tsai will see the head of the U.S. government-backed institute that oversees unofficial relations, Laura Rosenberger, who recently left the National Security Council.
Meanwhile, Ms. Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, plans to spend 12 days touring China starting March 27—a visit that would make him the first former leader of the self-ruled island to set foot on Chinese soil since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army retreated to Taiwan following its defeat by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces in 1949.
A member of the Nationalist Party, or the Kuomintang, Mr. Ma’s itinerary includes visits to the cities of Shanghai, Nanjing and Chongqing, but not Beijing, his foundation says. The timing of the trip draws a contrast between the Kuomintang, which favors closer ties with Beijing, and Ms. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party, which leans toward Washington.
Chang Tun-han, deputy secretary general for Ms. Tsai’s office, sought to play down the clashing trips at Tuesday’s press conference, saying Ms. Tsai and Mr. Ma’s travel plans are different in nature.
“President Tsai has hoped to resume healthy and orderly exchanges across the strait as the border reopens after the pandemic,” Mr. Chang said, referring to the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from China.