EXPLAINER: Why US lawmakers’ Taiwan trips keep riling China

WASHINGTON (AP) — Taiwan is high on the summer travel list for U.S. members of Congress during the August recess this year, as U.S. lawmakers touted American support for the self-ruled island despite Chinese objections. Paid photos from this week’s visit to the five-member CongressLike House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s less than two weeks earlier, it’s meant to be a suggestive message to China: The newly arrived lawmakers, who landed on the tarmac at Taipei’s international airport, were greeted by Taiwanese officials ecstatic about American support.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, was wrapping up his second US congressional delegation this month on Monday. Pelosi was the most senior US official to visit Taiwan in a quarter centuryIt underscores a longstanding US policy of solidarity with the island’s democratically elected leaders.

China claims Taiwan As part of his territory. It views any visit by US officials as an acknowledgment of the island’s sovereignty.

So far, China’s response to Markey’s delegation has been more restrained than two weeks ago, when Beijing launched several days of intensive military maneuvers around Taiwan and froze some ties with the US government over Pelosi’s visit.

A look at some of the key questions about US lawmakers’ trips to Taiwan and why they matter.

Why did more lawmakers travel to Taiwan this month?

In part, to show that they can and will. Pelosi made her visit to Taiwan as part of a commitment by American leaders to stand up for the world’s democratic movements against authoritarian governments. The mission itself is in many ways a message to lawmakers — a clear indication that they will maintain U.S. relations with Taiwan despite threats from China, which has become increasingly belligerent in making broader territorial claims in the region under President Xi Jinping.

In 1949, Taiwan and mainland China were divided during a civil war. But China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to seize it.

The US recognizes Beijing as the government of China but maintains informal diplomatic, defense and trade relations with democratic Taiwan.

Markey, a congressional veteran for more than 40 years, was one of the signatories of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The law pledged the US’s ongoing relationship with Taiwan.

Meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen on Sunday, Markey “pledged to support peace and stability in Taiwan as it faces increasing authoritarian pressure from Beijing,” according to a statement from his office.

But Markey also expressed America’s desire to avoid unnecessary conflict in the region and praised Taiwan for its restraint as Pelosi’s trip escalated tensions with China.

How did China react?

China responded to news of Markey’s five-member US congressional delegation by announcing new drills In the seas and skies around Taiwan.

It was not clear whether new drills had already begun. Officials did not give any information about where and when they will be held.

When Pelosi visited, Beijing fired missiles at the island and across the Taiwan Strait and sent warplanes and navy ships across the center line of the waterway, a long buffer between the sides.

“China will take firm and tough steps to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing on Monday. “A handful of US politicians, in cahoots with Taiwan independence separatist forces, are trying to challenge the one-China principle, which is out of their depth and has failed.”

How did Biden respond?

President Joe Biden called China’s unusually aggressive response to Pelosi’s visit unreasonable, saying the US is clinging to its decades-old “one-China” policy. It has no intention of recognizing Taiwan as independent, but does not support any Chinese efforts to change the status quo between Taipei and Beijing.

Recent congressional delegations have traveled with far less attention than Pelosi’s, and the White House has also been quiet. It did not comment, but State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about it Monday.

“Any response by members of Congress to a peaceful visit, involving controversial rhetoric or military maneuvers or provocative actions, is completely unnecessary and a complete overreaction,” Price said.

Kurt Campbell, Biden’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, underlined last week that the US will continue to take steps on its own in the coming weeks and months to show support and deepen support for Taiwan’s leaders.

They include upcoming announcements on Taiwan-US trade and US military movements through the Taiwan Strait.

Are congressional delegations to Taiwan unusual?

Not at all. Price is said to be 10 this year alone. With one notable exception—Pelosi’s—they happen with little public attention.

In connection with Pelosi’s trip, administration officials had argued that congressional visits to Taiwan were routine and unremarkable, accusing Beijing of stoking tensions with caustic rhetoric.

Many officials noted that the Chinese reaction to Markey’s trip was far less than Pelosi’s. He also suggested that China may be returning to its usual opposition to congressional trips to the island, while warning that Chinese military exercises in the Taiwan Strait remain a concern.


AP Diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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