House members travel to Taiwan

Delegation meets island’s president

In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, right, talks to Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, center, as she meets with members of United States Congressmen, in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. A group of United States Congress members met with Taiwan's president Thursday in a show of support that's certain to draw scrutiny from China, which opposes such visits and sees them as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the island. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)
In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, right, talks to Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, center, as she meets with members of United States Congressmen, in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. A group of United States Congress members met with Taiwan's president Thursday in a show of support that's certain to draw scrutiny from China, which opposes such visits and sees them as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the island. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A group of United States Congress members met with Taiwan's president Thursday in a show of bipartisan support that is certain to draw scrutiny from China, which opposes such visits and sees them as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the self-governing island.

Two years ago, a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan resulted in China dispatching warships and military aircraft to all sides of the democratic island, and firing ballistic missiles into the waters nearby.

In a meeting Thursday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, highlighted the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Taiwan partnership, which he described as "stronger and more rock-solid than ever now."

The U.S., like most countries, doesn't formally recognize Taiwan as a country but maintains robust informal relations with the island and is bound by its own laws to provide it with the weapons it needs to defend itself.

Gallagher thanked Tsai, who is nearing the end of her second and last term in office, for her leadership in Taiwan and for distinguishing herself "as a leader within the free world."

Tsai thanked the U.S. for continuing to help Taiwan strengthen its self-defense capabilities.

"Together we are safeguarding freedom and democracy and maintaining regional peace," she said, adding that she hoped to see more exchanges between the U.S. and Taiwan in a range of domains.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that China opposes any form of official exchange between the U.S. and Taiwan. "Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory," she said.

"China opposes any form of official interaction between the U.S. and Taiwan authorities and rejects U.S. interference in Taiwan affairs in whatever form or under whatever pretext," Mao added. She urged Washington to be "mindful of the extreme complexity and sensitivity" of the Taiwan issue.

The delegation, led by Gallagher, R-Wis., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D.-Ill., was expected to be in Taiwan for three days as part of a larger visit to the Indo-Pacific region. Other members include Reps. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.; Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.; and Seth Moulton, D-Mass.

Consisting of some of Congress' staunchest critics of China, the bipartisan delegation was to meet with other senior Taiwanese leaders and members of civil society to discuss U.S.-Taiwan relations, regional security and trade, among other issues of mutual interest.

Taiwan officials fear that the coming presidential transition could bring economic retaliation and intimidating displays of military force from China.

"We are facing a rapidly changing global geopolitical landscape and also tremendous pressure and diplomatic, military and economic coercion from China," Taiwanese president-elect Lai Ching-te told the lawmakers.

Taiwan will keep strengthening its military, Lai told them, but "we hope that the United States and like-minded countries will also continue to back Taiwan."

Both Lai and the current president, Tsai, are members of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has emphasized Taiwan's status as separate from China, though it has stopped short of implementing formal independence, which Beijing has warned could trigger armed conflict. China, no friend of Tsai, seems even more antagonistic toward Lai, who described himself years ago as a "pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence."

Lai has said he will follow Tsai's measured approach to China and not seek to change Taiwan's status quo. But Chinese officials have already signaled that they see little room for negotiations with the new president.

MODEL FOR DEMOCRACY

Krishnamoorthi said Taiwan is one of the United States' "closest friends" and a role model for democracy, after Lai Ching-te emerged victorious as Taiwan's president-elect and vowed to safeguard the island's de facto independence from China and further align it with other democracies.

"It's one of the most robust, most vibrant, one of the most exciting democracies in the world," Krishnamoorthi said. "And this year, when half of the world's population will be going to the polls to vote, you provided a role model for how elections should be conducted, and for that we salute you on this peaceful transfer of power -- you are an exemplar of democracy."

Krishnamoorthi is the ranking Democrat for the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. The committee was formed in 2023 and has held numerous hearings focused on human rights, trade, cyber intrusions and other issues central to the rising tensions between the two superpowers.

At a news conference, Krishnamoorthi said Ukraine's defensive war against Russia and its implications -- "making sure that the people of Ukraine succeed in beating back authoritarianism," as he put it -- had come up in the delegation's meetings.

"As president-elect Lai made very clear, and President Tsai, if for some reason the Ukrainians do not prevail, that will only encourage hostilities against Taiwan," Krishnamoorthi said, urging House approval of the additional funding for Ukraine.

People in Taiwan "are watching what's unfolding in Ukraine very closely," he told reporters. He said Lai had shown the visiting lawmakers a picture of orchids in Ukraine's national colors, blue and gold, that Taiwanese people had grown to show their support.

Earlier in February, the Commerce Department announced that for the first time in more than two decades, Mexico surpassed China as the leading source of goods imported by the United States. In 2023, then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted Taiwan's president in a rare high-level meeting on U.S. soil.

The shows of support for Taiwan reflect the growing willingness by many in Congress to confront China on a range of issues as economic relations between the two nations deteriorate.

Taiwan has been under "hybrid" pressure from China, especially in the military and economic spheres, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said at a news conference following the meeting.

The support Taiwan receives from both parties in the U.S. is a bulwark against military conflict with China, Gallagher said.

But, he added, democracies like those in Taiwan and the U.S., while sometimes messy, remain "unbeatable."

Taiwan was part of the $95-billion aid package that passed the Senate on Feb. 13, but has stalled in the House. That package, which focused on Ukraine and Israel, included $1.9 billion to replenish U.S. weapons provided to Taiwan. Another $3.3 billion would go to build more U.S.-made submarines in support of a security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom.

The Republican speaker of the House, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, has indicated that he will not let the bill go to a vote on the House floor. And billions of dollars in Taiwanese orders of American weapons are already backlogged, reflecting strains on the U.S. military industrial base that existed even before it began sending arms to Ukraine.

Even as Republican lawmakers have become increasingly skeptical about aid for Ukraine, many of them endorse military support for Taiwan as a bulwark against China, which they see as a primary threat to the United States. Even so, several policy experts said that a halt in U.S. aid to Ukraine could be unsettling for Taiwan.

Taiwan "absolutely welcomes members of the U.S. Congress visiting Taiwan. But now we're more concerned about the issue of delayed deliveries," said Shu Hsiao-huang, a researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, which is funded by Taiwan's Defense Ministry.

Public support in Taiwan for ramping up preparations for a potential Chinese attack rose after the Russian invasion two years ago. The Biden administration has said that Ukraine's recent withdrawal from the city of Avdiivka reflected Congress' failure to provide extra funds to support its war effort.

"Our view is that a defeat of Ukraine is going to embolden China, and also would discredit not just NATO, but basically the whole Western democracies, and it would have a psychological impact in Taiwan," I-Chung Lai, the president of the Prospect Foundation, a Taipei think tank aligned with the Democratic Progressive Party, said in an interview.

Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi suggested ways to speed up the delivery of military weapons to Taiwan during their meeting with Tsai, including joint production of some weapons that do not need intellectual property transfer, according to a report by Central News Agency, the island's main wire service.

The congressional visit coincided with an announcement by the U.S. State Department of a $75 million arms sale to Taiwan. The sale is relatively minor in size and does not include weaponry. Instead, it covers communications and global positioning systems as well as related technology.

Mao criticized the sale as "undermining China's sovereignty and security interests and harming China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

The U.S. is obligated under a 1979 law to provide Taiwan with sufficient military hardware and technology to deter invasion, and its arm sales to Taiwan have always drawn strong opposition from Beijing, which considers the island as part of Chinese territory and vows to take it, by force if necessary.

Information for this article was contributed by Kevin Freking, Simina Mistreanu, Didi Tang and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press and by Chris Buckley and Amy Chang Chien of The New York Times.

  photo  In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, right, talks to Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, left, in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. A group of United States Congress members met with Taiwan's president Thursday in a show of support that's certain to draw scrutiny from China, which opposes such visits and sees them as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the island. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)
 
 
  photo  In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, left, speaks during a meeting with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, right, in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. A group of United States Congress members met with Taiwan's president Thursday in a show of support that's certain to draw scrutiny from China, which opposes such visits and sees them as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the island. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)
 
 
  photo  In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, second right, shakes hands with members of United States Congressmen as Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, right, looks on during a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. A group of United States Congress members met with Taiwan's president Thursday in a show of support that's certain to draw scrutiny from China, which opposes such visits and sees them as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the island. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)
 
 
  photo  In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, right, meets with Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, center, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D.-Ill., in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. A group of United States Congress members met with Taiwan's president Thursday in a show of support that's certain to draw scrutiny from China, which opposes such visits and sees them as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the island. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)
 
 

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