U.S. lawmakers meet with Taiwan’s president-elect in first visit since island’s election

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s president-elect, Lai Ching-te, said Thursday he hopes that the United States can continue to firmly support Taiwan, as he met the first group of U.S. lawmakers to visit Taipei since he won an election earlier this month.

Lai, from Taiwan’s governing Democratic Progressive Party and the current vice president, will take office on May 20. China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, believes he is a dangerous separatist and has rejected his offers of talks.

Meeting with the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Taiwan Caucus, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, Lai said democracy and freedom were core shared values with the U.S.

“Taiwan is situated in the first island chain and stands on the frontline of China’s authoritarian expansionism. This makes Taiwan a crucial strategic location. Stability across the Taiwan Strait is extremely important to regional and global peace and prosperity,” Lai said.

Lai added he would continue to defend the cross-Strait status quo of peace and stability.

“I hope the United States can continue to firmly support Taiwan, deepen bilateral cooperation and relations and work with other democratic partners to ensure peace and prosperity in the region,” he said.

“I also hope that the two co-chairs and our friends in the U.S. Congress can continue to support Taiwan in bolstering its self-defense capabilities.”

Diaz-Balart told Lai his main message was that U.S. support for Taiwan was firm, real and “100% bipartisan.”

“Rest assured that you have the support of the United States Congress,” he said.

Taiwan’s government rejects China’s sovereignty claims, saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

The United States is Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms seller despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties.

China has repeatedly warned the United States to stop its support for Taiwan and the issue is a constant irritant in Sino-U.S. relations.

On Thursday, China criticized the United States for causing “trouble and provocation” after the U.S. Navy sailed its first warship through the sensitive Taiwan Strait since presidential and parliamentary elections on the island.

“U.S. warships and planes have caused trouble and provocation on China’s doorstep, and carried out large-scale, high-frequency activities in waters and airspace around China,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Wu Qian told reporters at a monthly briefing in Beijing.

The U.S. Navy said the destroyer USS John Finn transited through a corridor in the Taiwan Strait that was “beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state.”

Wu said China’s response in driving away the ship was “justified, reasonable, professional and restrained.”

Wu added that China’s military will “continue to organize relevant military operations” around the Taiwan Strait on a regular basis as part of its training, as analysts predict frequent drills in the run-up to Lai’s inauguration in May.

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