Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has arrived in the United States for a highly-sensitive diplomatic stopover. Despite the fact that Tsai has passed through the U.S. multiple times since taking office in 2016, Beijing has warned that the trip could have a ‘severe impact’ on US-China relations.

Allen Carlson is an associate professor of government at Cornell University and an expert on Chinese foreign policy.

Carlson says:

“The visit is about raising Taiwan’s international profile and securing additional American support for its defense. Such a goal is all the more pressing given that the island just recently lost one of its few remaining diplomatic partners (Honduras), and just last year was targeted by China with a series of military exercises in retaliation for then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.

“For Beijing, the trip is a provocation that smacks of Taiwanese independence. So far, it is unclear just how inflamed relations between Washington and Beijing will become. Much depends on the nature of the Taiwanese leader’s itinerary while in the U.S. (particularly if she meets the current Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy).

“Should Tsai’s visit follow in the footsteps of the 1995 trip by then President Lee Teng-hui, during which he showcased Taiwan’s independent nature, we will likely see Beijing reprise the muscular and assertive measures it took in the aftermath of that trip. But, if Tsai is more muted in the coming days, then China is likely to simply up the volume of its criticism of Taiwan and the United States, but not pair such pointed words with the launching of rockets.”