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Rep. Gallagher praises Taiwan's democracy in visit that's certain to draw China's scrutiny

Taiwan US Congress
Posted at 1:12 PM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 14:12:32-05

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — 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, 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.

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.

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, and you are an exemplar of democracy."

Krishnamoorthi is the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party's ranking Democrat. 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.

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.