China must 'pay price' for Russia backing, says US senator during Taiwan visit

US Senator Bob Menendez said that Taiwan's security has implications for the world. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - A group of senior US senators delivered a message of support for Taiwan during a visit on Friday (April 15), a move that China answered with a display of military force.

China responded by conducting military drills around Taiwan on Friday in a move the People’s Liberation Army said was intended to target the "wrong signals" sent after a United States Congressional delegation visited the island.

China’s military sent frigates, bombers and fighter planes to the East China Sea and the area around Taiwan on Friday, People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command spokesman Shi Yilu said, according to China’s state broadcaster.

"This operation is in response to the recent frequent release of wrong signals by the United States on the Taiwan issue, Mr Shi said, without mentioning the visiting US lawmakers.

"The US' bad actions and tricks are completely futile and very dangerous. Those who play with fire will burn themselves," he said.

China’s Defence Ministry, in a separate statement, said the US visit was "deliberately provocative" and had "led to further escalation of tension in the Taiwan Strait".

The Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement the US should end all forms of official interaction with Taiwan as Beijing views the contacts as a violation of its stance that there is just "one China".

The senators should avoid making "irresponsible remarks", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

When asked later about scientific exchanges between Russia and his nation, Mr Zhao said they’re "advancing normally", adding the two sides "will continue to follow the concept of lasting friendship".

During a Friday meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, US Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said technology hub Taiwan is a "country of global significance" and its security has implications for the world.

Mr Menendez was among a bipartisan group of six US lawmakers visiting in a show of support to the democratic island in the face of Chinese pressure.

The United States has no formal relations with Chinese-claimed Taiwan but is its most important international backer and arms supplier.

"With Taiwan producing 90 per cent of the world's high end semiconductor products, it is a country of global significance, consequence and impact, and therefore it should be understood the security of Taiwan has a global impact," Mr Menendez told Ms Tsai in a meeting in the presidential office broadcast live online.

The visit, and his use of the word "country" to refer to Taiwan, is likely to infuriate China, which dismisses any suggestion Taiwan is a country. China regards the island as one of its provinces.

Mr Menendez acknowledged that the Chinese government was "very unhappy" with the delegation's visit but that would not dissuade the delegation from supporting Taiwan.

Taiwan has been heartened by the US support offered by the Biden administration, which has repeatedly talked of its "rock-solid" commitment to the democratically governed island.

That has added to strains in Sino-US relations.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also put Taipei on alert for any possible moves by Beijing to use the Ukraine crisis to make a move on the island. The government has reported no unusual Chinese activity.

Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham told Ms Tsai during the delegation’s meeting that the war in Ukraine and provocative behaviour by China have united US opinion in a way not seen before.

"We will stand with you. To abandon Taiwan will be to abandon democracy and freedom. There’s a backlash growing in the world to thuggery – to the bad guys."

Mr Graham added that the US will start making China account for bullying Taiwan and supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

"Here is my promise to you and the Taiwanese people: We are going to start making China pay a greater price for what they are doing all over the world," he said.

"The support for Putin must come with a price. The never-ending cyberattack on your economy and people by the Communist Chinese needs to come with a price."

The delegation, which arrived late on Thursday from Australia for an unannounced two-day trip, will also meet Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu and defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng.

Mr Menendez, a Democrat, is a staunch supporter of Taiwan.

In February he co-proposed a bill that would require the United States to negotiate the renaming of Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington as the "Taiwan Representative Office".

Taiwan has complained for the past two years or so of stepped-up Chinese military activity, including almost daily air force flights into Taiwan’s air defence zone, but not close to the island itself.

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