Talks aim to ramp up trade and transport links, as ties grow between the US and China
U.S. lawmakers have travelled to Taiwan for the first time in four years, promising closer ties to the island and its increasingly hawkish president, Tsai Ing-wen.
Two dozen members of Congress arrived in Taipei for talks with Tsai at the weekend. “The greatest challenge Taiwan has ever faced is also the greatest opportunity,” said Sen John McCain, who attended the island with Senator Ted Cruz.
Ties between Taiwan and China have deteriorated since Tsai took office in May 2016 as Beijing suspects she wants to push for formal independence. The Taiwan and China are the most resistant relations between any of the four official countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
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To ease tensions, Taipei agreed in January to play a more central role in economic and security affairs in a “one-China” policy laid out in 2008. “The United States stands for and is committed to promoting stability in the Taiwan Strait, including the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with China,” the White House said in a statement.
The trips are among the highest-level visits by US lawmakers in years. Some of the lawmakers visited military bases or visited Taiwanese residents affected by the recent disasters in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Coupled with a major resumption of military-to-military exchanges, the detente between Washington and Taipei is intended to help the two countries diversify their trade and transportation links and raise growth between them to match Asia’s fastest-growing economies, China and Vietnam.
Tsai told the lawmakers, some of whom were opposed to the previous Taiwanese government, that their “support will help us speed up the development of a modern economy”.
Taiwan and China have ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the civil war in 1949. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, viewing it as a renegade province.
While the one-China policy says Taiwan is part of China, Beijing does not recognise formal Taiwan government and wishes to improve relations through pragmatic cooperation.
Despite their differences, US lawmakers have played a key role in fostering improved relations with Taiwan. The previous Taiwan government broke down ties with China after it signed a free trade deal with Washington in 2008.