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Top China critics in Congress meet with Taiwan’s president

Rep. Mike Gallagher and four other members of the House select committee on China met with President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei in a show of support for the Beijing-claimed island.
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HONG KONG — A U.S. congressional delegation led by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on Thursday in a show of support for the Beijing-claimed democracy.

Gallagher, the head of the House select committee on competition with China, traveled to the island with four other lawmakers as part of a larger visit to the Asia-Pacific region, according to the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy.

The status of Taiwan is among the biggest flashpoints in relations between Beijing and Washington, which has no official ties with the island but is its most important international backer. In recent years the island has been under growing military, economic and diplomatic pressure from China, which has not ruled out the use of force in unifying with it.

“The United States, Democrats and Republicans, stands with Taiwan, for your freedom and for ours,” Gallagher, a strong critic of China and four-term congressman who announced this month that he would not run for re-election, said at a news conference. “For as Taiwan goes, so goes the world.”

In their meeting earlier in the day, Tsai told the lawmakers she hoped to see even more exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. this year.

“The Taiwan of today plays a crucial role in upholding global peace and democracy,” she said. “We will continue to advance our international partnerships and engage with the world.”

The bipartisan delegation also met with Tsai’s vice president, Lai Ching-te, who won a presidential election last month and will succeed her in May. Their Democratic Progressive Party is considered the least friendly to Beijing, which has called Lai a separatist and “troublemaker.”

The other members of the delegation are Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.; John Moolenaar, R-Mich.; Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.; and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., all members of the China committee. They will also meet with senior Taiwan leaders and members of civil society to discuss issues including U.S.-Taiwan relations, regional security, trade and investment during the trip, which lasts until Saturday.

Beijing views foreign lawmakers’ visits to the island as provocative and interfering in its internal affairs. Taiwan, which rejects China’s sovereignty claims, says it has every right to invite them.

Speaking at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning urged the U.S. to “cease official exchanges between the U.S. and Taiwan, and refrain from sending any wrong signals to separatist forces.”

She also expressed opposition to the potential U.S. sale to Taiwan of $75 million in advanced tactical data link system upgrade planning, which the Pentagon notified Congress about on Wednesday.

The U.S. lawmakers’ visit coincides with rising tensions between China and Taiwan amid a dispute that began last week with the deaths of two Chinese fishermen while they were being chased by Taiwan’s coast guard. Taiwan accused them of trespassing near Kinmen, a small group of Taiwanese-controlled islands off the Chinese coast.

In response, China said Sunday that it would strengthen law enforcement activities and carry out regular patrols in the waters around the Kinmen archipelago. On Monday, Chinese coast guard officers made a rare boarding of a Taiwanese tourist boat, drawing objections from Taipei.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Wednesday that it had not increased military deployments on its outlying islands and that the military situation around Taiwan was normal.