Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened fears China might seek to annex its smaller neighbour by force.
A delegation of United States lawmakers led by vocal China critics Bob Menendez and Lindsey Graham arrived in Taiwan on Thursday for a two-day trip as Beijing threatened “strong measures” in response.
The group of six US legislators is making the latest in a string of visits by foreign politicians to Taiwan in defiance of Beijing’s efforts to isolate the island nation.
A US Air Force plane touched down in Taipei on Thursday evening for what Washington’s de facto embassy said were two days of talks on “US-Taiwan relations, regional security, and other significant issues of mutual interest”.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the US legislators would meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu and defence officials.
China’s Communist Party has never controlled self-ruled Taiwan but it views the island as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary. Those threats have become more bellicose under President Xi Jinping, making the security of Taiwan a rare subject of bipartisan support in Washington.
China’s posture has spurred greater US diplomatic support for Taipei and prompted visits from Western politicians shaken by Beijing’s more muscular tone.
Menendez, who chairs the influential Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was among a group of lawmakers who introduced a bill in February to rename Taipei’s de facto embassy in Washington the “Taiwan Representative Office”.
That would be a diplomatic departure from the tradition of using the word “Taipei”.
Beijing baulks at the use of the word Taiwan on the international stage and opposes any country having official exchanges with the democratic island.
Lithuania’s recent decision to allow Taiwan to use its own name for a representative office triggered Beijing to launch a trade war against Vilnius that has angered the European Union.
China’s foreign ministry warned the US senators against “going down on the wrong and dangerous path” ahead of their arrival.
“China will continue to take strong measures to resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
A Swedish parliamentary delegation is also presently in Taiwan.
“The purpose of the visit is very clear,” Swedish lawmaker Charlie Weimers told reporters on Thursday.
“It is to send a signal of support from Europe to Taiwan. And to make sure that signal is being heard all across the Taiwan Strait.”
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo infuriated Beijing when he said the US should diplomatically recognise Taiwan as “a free and sovereign country” during a visit last month.
Like most nations, the US diplomatically recognises Beijing but maintains de facto diplomatic ties with Taipei and is bound by an act of Congress to ensure Taiwan can maintain its defence.
US arms sales and diplomatic visits to Taiwan have increased under both former president Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden.
Biden administration officials have repeatedly talked of the US’s “rock-solid” commitment to democratically governed Taiwan.
The US Senate last year backed Taiwan’s access as an observer to the World Health Organization amid the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, Menendez said the US would “defend Taiwan’s place on the world stage in the face of increasing aggression from Beijing”.