TAIPEI, Feb 22 — The chairman of the US House of Representatives committee on China said today 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 today 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 see growing and extremely strong support for Taiwan (in the United States Congress),” 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.

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Gallagher, a vocal critic of China, said 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”.

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“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.

On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning condemned the US lawmakers’ visit as “interference”.

‘Tremendous pressure’

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).

During the meeting with Lai, the Taiwanese vice president thanked the United States for its support.

“We are facing a rapidly changing global geopolitical landscape and also tremendous pressure and diplomatic, military and economic coercion coming from China,” he said.

Relations between the United States and China have been fraught for years, with conflicts 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, including a summit between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

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 US$75 million advanced tactical data link system upgrade to Taiwan, according to a Pentagon statement.

Beijing condemns ‘interference’

As with previous visits, Beijing condemned the US Congressional delegation’s visit to Taipei, terming it “interference”.

“China... resolutely opposes the United States’ interference in Taiwan affairs in any way or under any pretext,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao told a regular press conference.

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

In the latest flare-up on the Taiwan Strait, 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. — AFP