Texas Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott met with the president of Taiwan on Sunday during her trip through the United States, in defiance of warnings from Beijing.
The lawmakers spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen about the "mutual opportunity to upgrade the stature" of U.S.-Taiwan relations during the meeting, which was not announced ahead of time, according to a statement released by Cruz on Sunday. The leaders discussed arms sales, diplomatic exchanges, and economic relations at the meeting.
Cruz said the Houston congressional delegation received a letter from the Chinese consulate shortly before the meeting asking members of Congress not to meet with the Taiwanese president and to uphold the "one China" policy, which recognizes Taiwan as a part of China. Beijing opposed Tsai's planned swing through the United States on her way to Central America, saying in December that it would "send wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces."
"The People's Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves," Cruz said on Sunday. "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."
"The U.S.-Taiwan relationship is not on the negotiating table," said Cruz. "It is bound in statute and founded on common interests. I look forward to working with President Tsai to strengthen our partnership."
The meeting came about a month after President-elect Donald Trump spoke over the phone with Tsai, marking the first time in nearly four decades that a senior American leader held a direct conversation with a Taiwanese leader. Trump has signaled that he plans to take a harder line on China than the Obama administration, putting Beijing on alert.
The Obama administration has cooperated with China on climate change and other issues, even as Beijing has provoked the United States and its allies in cyber space and the South China Sea. Some have criticized Obama for emboldening China by not doing enough to deter its aggressive actions.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It currently abides by its "one China" policy. However, the United States maintains a "robust unofficial relationship" with Taiwan and has supported Taiwan's participation in organizations that do not require statehood for membership.
"I fully understand the ‘one China' policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade," Trump said on Fox News in December following his phone call with Tsai.
The same day Tsai met with U.S. lawmakers, a Chinese state-run outlet called the Global Times published an editorial warning Trump that abiding by "one China" is "not a capricious request." The Chinese editorial stated the president-elect should expect consequences if he casts the policy aside.
"Trump is yet to be inaugurated, and there is no need for Beijing to sacrifice bilateral ties for the sake of Taiwan," the editorial stated. "But in case he tears up the one-China policy after taking office, the mainland is fully prepared. Beijing would rather break ties with the U.S. if necessary. We would like to see whether U.S. voters will support their president to ruin Sino-U.S. relations and destabilize the entire Asia-Pacific region."
"Sticking to this principle is not a capricious request by China upon U.S. presidents, but an obligation of U.S. presidents to maintain China-US relations and respect the existing order of the Asia-Pacific," the editorial stated. "If Trump reneges on the one-China policy after taking office, the Chinese people will demand the government to take revenge. There is no room for bargaining."
Relations between China and Taiwan have frayed over Tsai's refusal to affirm the "one China" principle during her inaugural address last May. Tsai's political party, the Democratic Progressive Party, favors formal separation from China.
In response to Tsai's phone call with Trump, the Global Times editorial recommended Beijing "mobilize all possible measures to squeeze Taiwan's diplomacy" and "impose military pressure on Taiwan and push it to the edge of being reunified by force, so as to effectively affect the approval rating of the Tsai administration."
"Tsai needs to face the consequences for every provocative step she takes," the Global Times wrote.
Tsai set off on her trip to visit Central American allies on Saturday, with planned stops in Houston and San Francisco. Abbott posted a photograph on Twitter of his meeting with Tsai in Houston, which he said featured discussions about expanding trade and economic opportunities. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R., Texas) welcomed Tsai upon her arrival on Saturday, accompanying her to a dinner with members of Houston's business community and the Chinese-American community in Texas, according to his Facebook page.
Following the Sunday meeting, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated Beijing's opposition to contact between Tsai and "anyone from the U.S. government." The spokesman said that such occurrences could undermine U.S.-China relations.
Tsai will not meet with Trump on her trip, according to transition officials.