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US will support Taiwan regardless of election results, Rep. Gallagher says on visit to island

By Eric Cheung, Nectar Gan, Wayne Chang and Simone McCarthy, CNN

Taipei, Taiwan (CNN) — American support for Taiwan will continue no matter who wins the upcoming US election, House Rep. Mike Gallagher told an audience in the democratic island on Thursday, as tensions simmer between Taipei and Beijing.

“I’m confident regardless of how the presidential election goes, we will maintain our support not only for Taiwan but also a posture of internationalism and engagement,” Gallagher told reporters in the capital Taipei.

The lawmaker, who chairs the House of Representatives select committee on China, is leading a five-member bipartisan delegation on a three-day visit to self-ruled Taiwan.

The trip comes amid a period of heightened tensions between Taipei and Beijing, following the deaths last week of two Chinese fisherman Taiwan said trespassed into protected waters.

China’s ruling Communist Party claims Taiwan as its own territory, despite never having controlled it, and has vowed to take the island – by force if necessary.

Gallagher said American efforts to support Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion were also critical to deterring Beijing from using force against Taiwan.

“The outcome in Ukraine matters not only for Ukraine and American credibility, but for deterrence in the Indo-Pacific, for cross-strait deterrence,” the lawmaker said.

US funding for Ukraine has been mired in political infighting in Congress, where a contingent of Republicans are resisting additional aid, encouraged by presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Trump is widely expected to face off against incumbent Joe Biden in the presidential elections in November.

The potential return to office of the former president, who earlier this month said he would not defend NATO allies that failed to spend enough on defense, has raised concerns in Europe about continued US support for Ukraine.

Speaking alongside Gallagher in Taipei, Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democratic congressman, also told reporters in the same news conference that Washington “can’t be tough on China and weak in your support of Ukraine … you can’t be inconsistent.”

Beijing’s ire

The US delegation also met with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and President-elect Lai Ching-te on Thursday.

Gallagher lauded Tsai, who ends her final term in office in May, as an “incredible” and distinguished leader of the free world where “freedom is under attack from authoritarian aggression.”

Tsai said Thursday that Taipei hopes “to see even more Taiwan-US exchanges” this year.

Congress plays an important role in the unofficial relations between Taiwan and the United States, which ended formal diplomatic ties with the self-ruled island in 1979 when it recognized Beijing.

American lawmakers regularly visit Taiwan and have supported legislation to bolster US support for the island and its defensive capabilities.

Gallagher, a Republican representing Wisconsin, has been a staunch supporter of Taiwan and a strong critic of China during his tenure in Congress.

The delegation’s visit sparked the ire of Beijing, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday saying it “always firmly opposes any form of official exchange between the United States and the Taiwan authorities and firmly opposes any interference in Taiwan affairs by any means or under any pretext.”

Troubled waters

The delegation’s visit comes during a period of heightened tensions between China and Taiwan, sparked by the drowning of two Chinese fishermen near Taiwan’s Kinmen Island last week.

According to Taiwanese authorities, the fishermen died after their speedboat capsized following a high-speed pursuit by Taiwan’s coast guard, which accused the vessel of entering prohibited waters.

Following the incident, Taiwanese authorities last week expressed regret over the deaths, but maintained that its maritime law enforcement officers were acting on their mandates in accordance with the law.

China condemned the incident and has since ramped up patrols in the area, including a rare Chinese coast guard interception earlier this week of a Taiwanese tourist boat.

The situation escalated further Wednesday when China accused Taiwan of a cover-up over the deaths after state media reported the return of two surviving Chinese crew members.

In an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday, one of the surviving fishermen said their boat was struck by a Taiwanese coast guard vessel.

“We didn’t expect it to rush over and hit our boat,” he said in a video. “How could our boat capsize on its own? … (They) rammed into us and knocked us over.”

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement accusing Taiwan authorities of “seeking to evade responsibilities and covering up the truth.”

“We solemnly demand relevant parties in Taiwan to release the truth as soon as possible, severely punish those responsible … and solemnly apologize to the families of the victims,” Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for the office, said in the statement.

Taiwan had earlier denied Beijing’s accusations of “rough expulsions” and defended the actions of its coast guard, saying the incident happened due to the refusal to cooperate by the Chinese fishermen, who made a dangerous move to flee.

On Thursday, deputy captain of Taiwan’s coast guard Chen Chien-wen said the Chinese vessel took a “sharp turn” while evading the coast guard, causing the speedboat to crash into the Taiwanese vessel and capsize.

Taiwan’s coast guard also said on Thursday that it cannot comment on China’s calls to “severely punish” personnel responsible for the deaths of the fishermen as the case is under investigation.

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