US Congressional support for Taiwan ‘extremely strong’, says lawmaker

US Congressional support for Taiwan ‘extremely strong’, says lawmaker

TAIPEI (AFP): The chairman of the US House of Representatives committee on China said Thursday that support in his country’s legislature for Taiwan was “extremely strong”, after a meeting with the self-ruled island’s top leadership.

Mike Gallagher heads a five-member delegation that met with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Vice President Lai Ching-te, who won last month’s presidential election and will take office in May.

“I actually think support for Taiwan in the United States Congress… I see growing and extremely strong support for Taiwan,” Gallagher told reporters.

The United States is Taiwan’s most important ally, and the island has been at the centre of tensions with China, which claims it as its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.

Gallagher, a vocal critic of China, added that he believed US support for Taiwan would be unaffected by the result of his country’s 2024 presidential election.

“I am very confident that support for Taiwan will continue regardless of who occupies the White House,” he said.

He also warned Beijing against any attempt to invade Taiwan, saying to do so would be “incredibly foolish”.

“If Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party were to ever make the incredibly foolish decision to attempt an invasion of Taiwan… that effort would fail,” he said during the meeting with Lai.

Earlier, President Tsai welcomed the US lawmakers, saying the visit demonstrated “staunch US support for Taiwan’s democracy through concrete action”.

“We will continue to advance our international partnerships and engage with the world. In 2024, we hope to see even more Taiwan-US exchanges in a range of domains,” she said.

The delegation will stay until Saturday as part of a larger visit to the region, the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy in Taipei said in a statement.

Accompanying Gallagher are US Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Dusty Johnson (R-SD), and Seth Moulton (D-MA).

– Fraught US-China relations –

The delegation’s visit will focus on US-Taiwan relations, regional security and trade, among other issues, a statement from Gallagher’s committee said.

Relations between the United States and China have been fraught for years, with tensions simmering over a gamut of issues, including trade, alleged espionage, human rights and foreign policy.

Tensions have eased markedly in the last year after a series of high-level meetings between US and Chinese officials.

In November, US President Joe Biden hosted his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for a summit on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic meeting, with the two agreeing to restore military communications.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Munich, with Russia’s war in Ukraine and US sanctions on Chinese companies on the agenda.

While the United States does not formally recognise Taiwan, it is the island’s main ally and supplier of military equipment — a thorn in ties between Washington and Beijing.

The US State Department on Wednesday authorised the sale of a $75 million advanced tactical data link system to Taiwan, according to a Pentagon statement.

Taiwan’s defense ministry welcomed the move, saying in a statement that “the US provides us with the means to enhance our ability to meet current and future threats”.

– Previous visits –

Previous visits by US political leaders have led to strong condemnation from Beijing.

A visit to Taiwan by then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2022 triggered China’s biggest-ever military exercises around the island, involving warships, missiles and fighter jets.

Ahead of his election win, Lai, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), vowed to defend the island against China’s “intimidation”.

Beijing has called Lai a “troublemaker” and a “separatist”, and reacted to his victory by warning against taking any steps towards formal independence, which the president-elect has said he opposed.

“If anyone on the island of Taiwan thinks of going for independence, they will be… trying to split China, and will certainly be harshly punished by both history and the law,” Wang said at the time.

In January, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson reiterated that Beijing was “firmly opposed” to all official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan after Lai met a visiting US delegation.

In the latest flare-up, Beijing on Wednesday accused Taipei of “seeking to… hide the truth” about an incident where two Chinese nationals died following a confrontation between their fishing vessel and a Taiwanese coast guard boat in Taiwan-controlled waters.