WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House Select Committee on China said Saturday the U.S. must take seriously the threat posed to Taiwan, as Beijing launched military drills around the island in the aftermath of the Taiwanese president's meetings with American lawmakers.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who attended the meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen in California last week, told The Associated Press that he plans to lead his committee in working to shore up the island government's defenses, encouraging Congress to expedite military aid to Taiwan.
“I think it all just points to what is obvious,” Gallagher told the AP, arguing that Chinese President Xi Jinping is intent on reunifying Taiwan with the mainland.
"We need to be moving heaven and earth to enhance our deterrence and denial posture, so that Xi Jinping concludes that he just can’t do it," Gallagher said.
China conducted drills with warships and dozens of fighter jets around Taiwan on Saturday, the Taiwanese government said, in what was viewed as retaliation for the meeting between the U.S. lawmakers and the president of the self-ruled island democracy claimed by Beijing as part of its territory.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted Tsai in a bipartisan session at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, with more than a dozen members of the U.S. House for what was the most sensitive stop during her transit through the U.S.
China’s response to Tsai’s transit through the U.S. has not, so far, been as intense as its reaction last year after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.
While both McCarthy and Tsai spoke in measured remarks after the meeting about maintaining the status quo between their countries, which have no formal diplomatic ties, the daylong meeting enraged China.
The Chinese military announced the start of three-day “combat readiness patrols” as a warning to Taiwanese who want to make the island’s de facto independence permanent.
Taiwan split with China in 1949 after a civil war, and the United States broke off official ties with Taiwan in 1979 while formally establishing diplomatic relations with the Beijing government.
The U.S. acknowledges a “one China” policy in which Beijing lays claim to Taiwan, but it does not endorse China’s claim to the island and remains Taiwan’s key provider of military and defense assistance.
The ruling Communist Party says the island is obliged to rejoin 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 condemned Tsai’s meetings with lawmakers and announced sanctions on two organizations that hosted her in the U.S., but its immediate response so far has been less forceful than its reaction to Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan.
China had warned U.S. lawmakers not to join the meeting with Tsai, Gallagher said. And after the meeting, China urged the U.S. off what it called a “wrong and dangerous road”
Gallagher, who served as a U.S. Marine with tours in Iraq, said U.S. lawmakers will not be intimidated by the Chinese.
“It's an attempt to shift the ideological battle space and, again, an attempt to intimidate us, and make us feel like we’re changing the status quo and provoking them, when the opposite is true,” he said.
Gallagher said he wants Congress to work on stepping up its military commitments to Taiwan. He said the U.S. should be more quickly sending weapon systems to Taiwan for its defense.
One idea that arose from the meeting, he said, was for the U.S. to help Taiwan with technology to manufacture its own defense systems.
In 2022, China responded in the aftermath of Pelosi's visit with its largest live-fire drills in decades, including firing a missile over the island.
Chinese officials gave no indication whether the drills underway now might include a repeat of previous exercises with missiles fired into the sea, which disrupted shipping and airline flights.