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China watches as Taiwan's president prepares to meet House Speaker McCarthy

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is visiting the United States. She meets House Speaker Kevin McCarthy today in Los Angeles.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For those who don't follow this every day, let's recall the basics. Taiwan is a democracy that has held itself separate for decades from the communist government and has U.S. support. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province off its coast. Last year, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. And China responded with military exercises that surrounded the island. So how does China respond this time?

MARTIN: NPR's Emily Feng is in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to tell us more about all of this.

Emily, thanks so much for joining us.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: Tell us more about Tsai's meeting with McCarthy and why it matters.

FENG: Well, from Taiwan's perspective, it's a massive opportunity for Tsai Ing-wen to prove that Taiwan's closer partnership with the U.S. will protect it from China, which wants control over the island. Tsai's office also just disclosed today that she'd met with three U.S. senators quietly last week in New York to discuss potential American legislation that would sanction China if it ever invaded Taiwan. And so this time around, Taiwan's really seeking reassurance that the U.S. remains a strong security partner for the island. Here's Dr. Lin Ying Yu, who studies international relations at Taiwan's Chung Cheng University.

LIN YING YU: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He's saying, although sometimes the U.S. meets with China, Tsai's meeting with McCarthy shows the U.S. will stick to its bottom lines and will not let China manipulate it on cross-strait issues regarding Taiwan. But for Tsai in California today, she's got a really tall order to fill. She has to balance these competing pressures of projecting defiance against Chinese interference, meeting with Taiwan's partners, but doing all of that without provoking conflict with China.

MARTIN: So what else has China said about the visit beyond these veiled threats we just mentioned about more military exercises around Taiwan?

FENG: Oh, they're furious, as usual. They've said multiple times last week they oppose the visit, that they're going to take countermeasures, because, as Steve said, China believes Taiwan is its territory. So it opposes Taiwan having any kind of international meetings and behaving like its own country. This time around, China's already held these small-scale navy and air force drills over the weekend. We've seen an uptick in the number of Chinese ships and fighter jets that have been flying from China towards Taiwan. So there's a strong indication there's going to be military exercises as punishment for this meeting in the next couple of days. But the question is just how large these exercises will be.

MARTIN: And what about in Taiwan? How is the meeting being perceived there?

FENG: It's mostly positive, because regardless of political affiliation here in Taiwan, people recognize the U.S. is by far Taiwan's most important security partner, even though the U.S. recognizes China, not Taiwan, as a country. So they want to maintain that partnership with the U.S. But Taiwan is a democracy. There are competing visions for how to handle relations with U.S. and China here. And so at the same time that Tsai Ing-wen has been jetting around the world and going to the U.S., her predecessor, the former president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, has actually been in China this week on a personal trip. That's where his parents are from. And he went and visited his ancestral family tomb this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MA YING-JEOU: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: That's the former president speaking. He's crying. He's actually trying to speak in a Chinese dialect. He claimed on this trip that people in Taiwan and China are all culturally Chinese, which is something that Beijing is really happy to hear, even though people in Taiwan might disagree with that statement. So this issue of how to manage China - either through defiance or through closer cultural exchanges, or maybe a little bit of both - that's foremost in people's minds in Taiwan this week, and as the island heads into its own campaign season now for an upcoming presidential election.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Emily Feng.

Emily, thank you so much.

FENG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.