Taiwan’s peace and democracy are facing “unprecedented challenges”, its president has said, on a visit to the US which will anger China.
Tsai Ing-wen has held talks with both Democrat and Republican congressional leaders at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, against a backdrop of rising tensions with Beijing, which claims the island nation as its own.
Standing alongside President Tsai at a news conference, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said: “I believe our bond is stronger now than at any time or point in my lifetime. And of course, President Tsai is a great champion of that bond.”
As House Speaker, he is the third most powerful US politician behind President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Republican Mr McCarthy is also the most senior US figure to meet a Taiwanese leader on American soil since 1979 – and the talks came despite threats of retaliation from Beijing.
China sees any interaction between US and Taiwanese officials as a challenge to its claim to the island, and has reacted to previous meetings with shows of force and by cutting back on dialogue with America.
President Tsai said on Wednesday the “unwavering support” from the US reassures “the people of Taiwan that we are not isolated, and we are not alone”.
But she also cautioned: “The peace we have maintained and the democracy which we have worked hard to build are facing unprecedented challenges.
“We find ourselves in a world where democracy is under threat.”
She said she reiterated to US congressional leaders her country’s commitment to “defending the peaceful status quo”.
She also said that to “preserve peace we must be strong, and we are stronger together”, adding: “Taiwan was grateful to have the US by its side.”
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The two politicians stood in an atrium in front of a plane that Ronald Reagan flew on as president in the 1980s.
Mr McCarthy said: “The friendship between the people of Taiwan and America is a matter of profound importance to the free world. And it is critical to maintain economic freedom, peace and regional stability.”
He said: “We will honour our obligations and reiterate our commitment to our shared values behind which all Americans are united.”
Angry Chinese officials have pledged a sharp but unspecified response to the meeting with Mr McCarthy.
But the White House has said there is nothing new or provocative about Ms Tsai’s visit.
“There’s no reason for the Chinese to overreact in any way,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
The Chinese responded to a visit by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August by carrying out its biggest live-fire drills in decades, including firing a missile over the island.