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US Republicans, Democrats in Taiwan after Chinese drills

May 27, 2024

A US delegation has traveled to Taiwan after China held drills around the self-governed island in a show of strength. The US is the island's most important ally and supplier of military goods.

Michael McCaul and Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te trying on a cowboy hat on May 27
US House Republican Michael McCaul (L) led the delegation, which met with President Lai Ching-te (R)Image: aiwan Presidential Office/AP/picture alliance

A US congressional delegation met new Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te on Monday on a visit aiming to show Washington's continued commitment to Taiwan amid growing assertiveness from China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own.

The visit, the first congressional visit to Taiwan since Lai's inauguration, comes days after China carried out military drills nearby that Beijing said were to test its ability to seize the island. 

Beijing also said it had ordered the exercises as "punishment" for an inauguration speech by Lai, whom it calls a "dangerous separatist."

What was said during the visit?

Michael McCaul, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who led the delegation, said he and his colleagues stood in "strong support of this beautiful island."

At the meeting with Lai, McCaul, a Republican from the US state of Texas, condemned what he called "intimidating military exercises." 

He said they showed China was "not interested in taking Taiwan by peaceful means".

"All democracies must stand together against aggression and tyranny," McCaul said.

Chinese fighter taking off during the "Joint Sword-2024A" military drill on May 23
China's drills near Taiwan have been widely seen as an intimidation attemptImage: EASTERN THEATER COMMAND OF THE PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY/AFP

Andy Barr, the co-chair of the Taiwan caucus in the US Congress, told a news conference that there  "should be no doubt, there should be no skepticism in the United States, Taiwan or anywhere in the world, of American resolve to maintain the status quo and peace in the Taiwan Strait."  

Lai thanked the lawmakers for their support, saying he hoped the US Congress would "continue to assist Taiwan in strengthening its self-defense capabilities."

Taiwan's new foreign minister, Lin Chia-lung, called the visit "an important gesture of solidarity" at a critical time.

Complex US commitment to Taiwan

Although the US switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, it still remains the island's most important ally.

However, it has been deliberately ambiguous in its security commitments in the case of an attempted Chinese takeover by military means. 

President Joe Biden has said he does not support Taiwan's independence, while maintaining that he would back sending forces to defend the island.

China has said it will never renounce the use of force to take over the island, which has been self-governed since 1949, when nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek fled there after being defeated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a civil war. 

Taiwan Tensions Soar: China Stages Live-Fire Drills After New Leader's Inauguration

tj/wmr (AP, AFP)