In Taiwan, Visiting Lawmakers Say U.S. Support Is Firm


Visiting U.S. lawmakers sought to assure Taiwan on Thursday that the United States would stand by it in the face of pressure from China, though a bill that includes support for the island has stalled in Congress, and divisions over aid for Ukraine have fanned wider questions about Washington’s commitment to its partners.

“Today we’ve come as Democrats and Republicans to show bipartisan support for this partnership,” Representative Mike Gallagher, the Wisconsin Republican who is leading the congressional delegation to Taiwan, told President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei, the capital. Journalists were allowed to witness initial remarks in the meeting between Ms. Tsai and the delegation before being ushered out.

The five House members on the delegation — all members of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, which Mr. Gallagher heads — are the latest in a recent succession of American visitors to voice support for Taiwan, at a time when leaders in Washington are also trying to shore up security support for Ukraine and Israel.

Taiwan, which has no formal diplomatic ties with the United States, has often turned to American lawmakers for backing, and a dispute in the Capitol over military aid for Ukraine has highlighted the influence that Congress can have over the use of American power abroad.

Ms. Tsai told the lawmakers — including two other Republicans, John Moolenaar of Michigan and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, and two Democrats, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts — that their visit “further highlights the close partnership between Taiwan and the United States.”

“We hope to see even more exchanges between Taiwan and the United States in a range of domains in the new year,” Ms. Tsai said. “We will work together with even more like-minded countries to strengthen the resiliency of global democratic supply chains and contribute to development and prosperity around the world.”

Mr. Krishnamoorthi, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, told Ms. Tsai that the bipartisan nature of the delegation “shows you the strength of our partnership.”

Taiwan is three months away from a presidential transition, and officials fear it could soon see economic retaliation and intimidating displays of military force from China, which treats it as a breakaway region that must eventually embrace unification — by force, if leaders in Beijing decide that is necessary.

Both Ms. Tsai and the president-elect, Lai Ching-te, are members of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has emphasized Taiwan’s status as separate from China, though it has stopped short of implementing formal independence, which Beijing has warned could trigger armed conflict. China, no friend of Ms. Tsai, seems even more antagonistic toward Mr. Lai, who described himself years ago as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence.”

Mr. Lai has said that he will follow Ms. Tsai’s measured approach to China and not seek to change Taiwan’s status quo, but Chinese officials have already signaled that they see little room for negotiations with the new president.

Officials in Taiwan are closely watching the political situation in the United States, especially with the presidential election looming in November, experts say. Many in Taiwan see the United States as a vital partner in the face of China’s threats. But there is also an undercurrent of doubt about American commitment, amplified by propaganda from China, and some in Taiwan argue that it has become too entangled in the rivalry between Beijing and Washington.

A proposed U.S. supplementary budget approved by the Senate, which features aid for Ukraine and Israel, also offers support for Taiwan, including $1.9 billion that could help open up its access to American weapons stockpiles.

But the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, has indicated that he will not let the bill go to a vote on the House floor. And billions of dollars in Taiwanese orders of American weapons are already backlogged, reflecting strains on the U.S. military industrial base that existed even before it began sending armaments to Ukraine.

“With the conflicts between Russia and Ukraine and in the Middle East, people are worried about whether something will happen in the Taiwan Strait,” said Shu Hsiao-huang, a researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, which is funded by Taiwan’s defense ministry. “People are worried about whether these things can be delivered to Taiwan as scheduled.”

Mr. Shu said that the island “absolutely welcomes members of the U.S. Congress visiting Taiwan. But now we’re more concerned about the issue of delayed deliveries.”

China has held increasingly frequent military activities around Taiwan in recent years, and it sometimes escalates them to display its displeasure. But it has held no major drills in the area since Mr. Lai won Taiwan’s presidential election in January. Taiwanese officials, though, have said that could change as the May 20 inauguration nears.

This week, China’s coast guard held patrols near Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island near the Chinese coast, after two Chinese men died in the area. The men were on a Chinese boat that had entered Taiwanese waters around Kinmen, and they died after Taiwan’s coast guard chased the vessel, which capsized. Taiwan has said it is investigating the incident.

Earlier this year, Chinese authorities unilaterally altered an air route that Taiwanese commercial flights take over the strait between the two sides. Officials in Taipei denounced the move, saying it could make flying in the area more dangerous.

Even as Republican lawmakers have become increasingly skeptical about aid for Ukraine, many of them endorse military support for Taiwan as a bulwark against China, which they see as a primary threat to the United States. Even so, several policy experts said that a halt in U.S. aid to Ukraine could be unsettling for Taiwan.

Ms. Tsai and other Taiwanese politicians have often voiced solidarity with Ukraine, and public support in Taiwan for ramping up preparations for a potential Chinese attack rose after the Russian invasion two years ago. The Biden administration has said that Ukraine’s recent withdrawal from the city of Avdiivka reflected Congress’s failure to provide extra funds to support its war effort.

“A significant group in Taiwan focused on foreign affairs are paying very close attention to developments in Ukraine,” I-Chung Lai, the president of the Prospect Foundation, a Taipei think tank aligned with the Democratic Progressive Party, said in an interview. “Our view is that a defeat of Ukraine is going to embolden China, and also would discredit not just NATO, but basically the whole Western democracies, and it would have a psychological impact in Taiwan.”

Mr. Gallagher would appear well cast to address any anxieties in Taiwan. A former Marine, he has argued that the United States should ramp up weapons production to deter its adversaries.

In early 2023, he became the founding chairman of the House committee on the Chinese Communist Party, which has called for vigorously countering Beijing’s global influence. But Mr. Gallagher said this month that he would not seek re-election to Congress.


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