Rep. Mike Gallagher speaks during a House hearing in Washington on July 18, 2023.

Rep. Mike Gallagher speaks during a House hearing in Washington on July 18, 2023. (Drew Angerer, Getty Images/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — A delegation of U.S. lawmakers led by House Republican Mike Gallagher (Wisc.) arrived in Taiwan, a visit that may exacerbate an already fraught relationship between the island and China.

The group will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President and President-elect Lai Ching-te and the incoming No. 2 Hsiao Bi-khim during their three-day trip, the Foreign Ministry in Taipei said in a statement Thursday. Gallagher, who chairs the House’s China committee, has previously called for bolstering the island’s defenses and curbing U.S. economic ties with the Asian nation.

The ministry will host a banquet for the delegation, according to local media reports. It will also meet Han Kuo-yu, the new legislative speaker, the Financial Times reported last week.

The visit by the U.S. lawmakers comes amid tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Two Chinese fishermen died last week when their speedboat capsized as they were being pursued by the island’s Coast Guard near an offshore Taiwanese outpost. Two other Chinese fishermen were rescued, and were deported.

Beijing responded by increasing patrols in the narrow stretch of water that separates the Taiwanese island of Kinmen from China, at one point boarding a tourist boat. The U.S. called for the dispute to be handled calmly, with State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller saying Tuesday that Washington was “closely monitoring Beijing’s actions.”

Last month, Lai secured a historic third straight presidential term for the Democratic Progressive Party. His victory will likely frustrate China’s efforts to bring Taiwan under its control. Beijing sees the island as part of its territory, to be taken by force if necessary, and has condemned Lai as a “troublemaker” who seeks formal independence.

China tends to respond to visits by U.S. lawmakers by sending warplanes and ships into sensitive areas around Taiwan, forays that wear down the island’s smaller military. The People’s Liberation Army held major exercises around the island of 23 million people twice since August 2022 because Tsai met top U.S. lawmakers.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Visits from U.S. officials to Taipei are fairly common. Representatives Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), co-chairs of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, traveled to Taiwan and met senior officials including Tsai and Lai last month.

The latest delegation includes representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), John Moolenaar (R-Mich.), Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), according to a statement from the American Institute in Taiwan, the U.S. representative office in Taipei. Their visit is part of a wider trip to the region.

Gallagher, who has said he won’t seek re-election, has expressed support for Taiwan in the past. He called on Washington to arm the island “to the teeth” against Chinese military intimidation in an op-ed last month.

The select committee on competition with China was formed last year to counter Beijing’s rising geopolitical influence. Krishnamoorthi is the ranking Democrat on the panel, which recently met to discuss ways to reduce the U.S. biotechnology industry’s vulnerability to its top geostrategic rival.

That approach should include vetting inbound investments, barring federal contracts with designated Chinese firms, curbing outbound investments in China’s biotech supply chain and applying export controls, Krishnamoorthi said.

Lucille Liu contributed to this report.

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