By Lisa Mascaro Congressional Correspondent
The chairman of the House Select Committee on China said Saturday that the United States should take seriously the threat posed by Taiwan, as Beijing launched military exercises around the island in the wake of the Taiwanese president’s meetings with US lawmakers.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, who attended the meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen in California last week, told The Associated Press he plans to lead his committee in working to strengthen the island government’s defenses, which has encouraged Congress to speed up military aid to Taiwan.
“I think all of this just points to the obvious,” Gallagher told the Associated Press, arguing that Chinese President Xi Jinping is determined to reunify Taiwan with the mainland.
“We need to move heaven and earth to strengthen our deterrence and denial stance, so that Xi Jinping concludes that he can’t do it,” Gallagher said.
The Taiwanese government said China conducted exercises with warships and dozens of combat aircraft across Taiwan on Saturday, in what was seen as retaliation for the meeting between US lawmakers and the president of the self-ruled, democratic island that Beijing claims it is part of. province.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted Tsai for a bipartisan session at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, with more than a dozen members of the US House of Representatives for what was the most sensitive stop as it transited across the United States.
China’s response to Tsai’s transit through the United States has not, thus far, been as intense as its response last year following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
While both McCarthy and Tsai made measured remarks after the meeting about maintaining the status quo between their countries, which do not have formal diplomatic relations, the day-long meeting angered China.
The Chinese military announced the start of three-day “combat readiness patrols” as a warning to the Taiwanese who wanted to make the island’s de facto independence permanent.
Taiwan seceded from China in 1949 after a civil war, and the United States severed official relations with Taiwan in 1979 while formally establishing diplomatic relations with the Beijing government.
The United States recognizes Beijing’s “one China” policy on Taiwan, but does not support China’s claim to the island and remains Taiwan’s main provider of military and defense aid.
The ruling Communist Party says the island is obligated to join the mainland, by force if necessary. Beijing says contact with foreign officials encourages Taiwanese who want formal independence, a step the ruling party says would lead to war.
Chinese officials have condemned Tsai’s meetings with lawmakers and announced sanctions against two organizations that hosted her in the United States, but her immediate response has so far been less forceful than her reaction to Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan.
Gallagher said China had warned US lawmakers not to join the meeting with Tsai. After the meeting, China urged the United States to veer off what it called a “wrong and dangerous path”.
Gallagher, who served as a US Marine with tours in Iraq, said US lawmakers will not be intimidated by the Chinese.
“It’s an attempt to change the ideological battlefield and, again, an attempt to intimidate us, to make us feel like we’re changing the status quo and to provoke them, when the opposite is true,” he said.
Gallagher said he wants Congress to work to increase its military commitments to Taiwan. He said the United States should send weapons systems to Taiwan more quickly to defend it.
He said one of the ideas that arose from the meeting was for the United States to help Taiwan with technology to manufacture its own defense systems.
In 2024, China retaliates in the wake of Pelosi’s visit with its largest live-fire exercise in decades, including firing a missile over the island.
Chinese officials gave no indication if the exercises now underway might include a repeat of previous exercises with missiles fired into the sea, which disrupted navigation and flights.