US Congressmen explore trade opportunities amid Taiwan-China tensions

Written by Alexander Smith, CNN

U.S. lawmakers have traveled to Taiwan to meet with executives from Alibaba, Qualcomm and Taiwan’s largest carrier, according to a Taiwanese government official.

Though not technically a state visit, the lawmakers’ trip represents a rare showing of Taiwan’s international clout amid growing tensions between Taipei and Beijing. The island was left out of President Xi Jinping’s latest Great Hall of the People plans in January, but the move was overruled by China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory.

“This visit from congressmen shows that Taiwan people still believe in Taiwan independence and hope that Taiwan not to be recognized by anyone other than the ‘one China’ principle that the U.S. and the other countries believe in,” Republican Congresswoman Grace Meng told CNN during an official trip to Taiwan.

The lawmakers want to meet with officials to discuss President Tsai Ing-wen’s efforts to remain politically independent. China considers Taiwan a province, but considers its legislature and parliament as its own territory.

While the lawmaker meetings mark a change in approach, this isn’t the first time the American delegation has visited Taiwan amid tensions with China. In 2013, then-US Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and several lawmakers traveled to the island. The aim of the trip was to prepare for the American Strategic Dialogue between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Accompanying the delegation in Taiwan this time around are Democratic lawmakers from California who met with representatives from Taiwan’s financial industry.

“The lawmakers are there to check up on how Taiwan is really handling its economy, besides just politics,” said David Kelly, a director of the Taiwan Association of International Trade, a non-governmental organization in charge of the delegation’s visit.

But trade also marks one of the most sensitive issues that the international community has to deal with amid the friction between China and Taiwan. The island, as a Taiwan, is considered to be a middle-ground.

In February, Vice President Mike Pence issued a report advocating stronger foreign investment by Taiwan in the United States — in particular in its energy sector. Pence argued that American companies would be at an advantage if Taipei was able to expand oil and gas production and import liquefied natural gas.

Taiwan’s leaders — even those who favor independence — have found the relationship with the US beneficial. In July 2017, for example, Taiwan signed a trade agreement with the U.S. marking nearly $225 billion of U.S. exports to Taiwan and almost $300 billion of Taiwanese exports to the U.S.

But Taipei and Beijing have often had tense interactions, often lobbing rhetoric at each other. During recent tense trade talks, US President Donald Trump took the unusual step of drawing a bilateral trade partnership with China and a defense defense agreement with Taiwan at the same time.

“Taiwan should be in a position where we protect them, and the relationship between U.S. and Taiwan is strategic and not political,” said Kelly.

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