Another U.S. congressional delegation in Taiwan amid tensions

In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, right, exchanges gift with United States Congressional member Florida Democrat Stephanie Murphy in Taipei on Thursday.

TAIPEI (AP) — Another U.S. congressional delegation is visiting Taiwan as tensions with China remain high over its claims to the self-governed island.

A steady stream of U.S. visitors has come to meet with Taiwanese officials since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited in early August. China in response has stepped up its military harassment of Taiwan, sending warships, warplanes and drones toward the island daily.

Led by Florida Democrat Stephanie Murphy, the delegation met Thursday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whose administration China has relentlessly sought to deprive of diplomatic recognition and participation in international organizations.

Referring to China’s military threats, Tsai said the delegation’s visit “conveys rock solid support for Taiwan from the U.S. Congress.”

“Taiwan will not bow to pressure or coercion,” Tsai said. “We will defend our democratic institutions and way of life. Taiwan will not back down.”

Murphy replied that Congress “should advocate for greater Taiwanese participation in international organizations.”

“Taiwan has shown itself to be a responsible member of the international community, especially in public health issues, and it deserves to participate in international fora when appropriate,” she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning on Thursday said China “strongly rejects and deplores” the congressional visit, saying it violates the U.S. commitment to the “one-China policy” that forbids formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

“We will continue to take strong measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mao said at a daily briefing.

Under the U.S. system of separation of powers, the executive branch of government has no legal right to prevent members of Congress from visiting Taiwan. China has repeatedly refused to recognize that principle.

Mao also cautioned Japan not to allow a Taiwanese government official to attend an official funeral for ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. China strongly protested after Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te paid his respects at Abe’s Tokyo residence following his assassination in July.

“Japan should … not provide the Taiwan independence force any platforms for political manipulation,” Mao said. Throughout his political career, Abe was a strong supporter of Taiwan, a Japanese colony for 50 years until the end of World War II which maintains close political, economic and social ties with Japan.

Murphy, who was born in Ho Chi Minh City to Vietnamese parents, is among lawmakers who introduced a bill that would allow the U.S. to lend weapons to support Taiwan, similar to a bill that was passed to lend weapons to Ukraine. Last week, the Biden administration approved a $1 billion arms sale to Taiwan.

Murphy also said deepening economic relations with Taiwan was “one of the most important things Congress can do right now,” particularly by pushing for a “high-quality free trade agreement” between the sides. Negotiations are underway between the Biden and Tsai administrations on a trade pact.

The other American lawmakers visiting are Hawaii Democrat Kaiali’i Kahele and Republicans Scott Franklin of Florida, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Andy Barr of Kentucky, Darrell Issa of California, Claudia Tenney of New York and Kat Cammack of Florida.

Pelosi was the highest-level member of the U.S. government to visit Taiwan in 25 years. China responded by holding extended military exercises that included firing missiles over the island and sending ships across the midline of the Taiwan Strait, which was long a buffer between the two sides. Some of the missiles landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

China sees high-level foreign visits to the island as interference in its affairs and de facto recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty. China’s recent military drills were seen by some as a rehearsal of future military action against the island, which U.S. military leaders say could come within the next few years.

In Beijing on Wednesday, Mao said China’s opposition to defense cooperation between Washington and Taipei is “consistent and clear.”

“We will resolutely respond to acts that undermine China’s sovereignty and security and interfere in our internal affairs,” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing, without giving details.

Following Pelosi’s trip, a U.S. senator and another congressional delegation visited Taiwan, as well as officials from Japan and Palau. Governors from Arizona and Indiana made visits with a focus on semiconductors, an industry which Taiwanese companies dominate.