US lawmakers were due to meet Taiwan’s president days after China responded to a similar visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with huge military drills that raised fears of a conflict.
The unannounced two-day trip came after Beijing sent warships, missiles and jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that Chinese leaders claim and have vowed to one day seize.
The five-member congressional delegation – led by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts – was due to hold a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday morning, followed by a banquet at the Foreign Office.
Their visit will focus on trade, regional security and climate change, Washington’s de facto embassy in Taipei said.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry hailed the visit as another sign of a friendship between Taipei and Washington “not afraid of China’s threats and intimidation.”
But the bipartisan trip sparked another caustic response from Beijing, which halted its drills but continued military patrols across the Taiwan Strait.
State news agency Xinhua published a commentary after lawmakers arrived on Sunday with the headline “US politicians should stop playing with fire on the Taiwan issue.”
He called the visiting U.S. lawmakers opportunistic thinking about their own political interests ahead of November’s midterm elections.
“Those American politicians who are playing with fire on the Taiwan question should abandon their wishful thinking,” the agency said.
“There is no room for compromise or concessions when it comes to China’s core interests.”
The Taiwanese government has accused Beijing of using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to launch exercises that would allow it to repeat an invasion.
The Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan but says it will use force if necessary to take the island.
This decades-old threat was reiterated in a white paper released last week when China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said it “would not renounce the use of force” against its neighbor and reserved itself ” the possibility of taking all necessary measures”.
He added, however, “We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to provocation by separatist elements or outside forces if they cross our red lines.”
Pelosi supported his visit, but President Joe Biden has said the US military is opposed to the trip of his fellow Democrat, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.
Congress is constitutionally an equal branch of government with lawmakers free to travel wherever they choose, and Taiwan enjoys bipartisan support in a divided Washington.
The United States transferred diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
But it remains a key ally of Taiwan and maintains de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei.
Official Washington policy opposes Taiwan’s declaration of independence or China’s forced change in the status of the island.
He remains deliberately ambiguous about whether he would come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if China invaded.
Visits by top US officials to Taiwan have happened for decades and even Pelosi’s trip was not unprecedented – former House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited in 1997.
But the frequency and profile of US visits have increased under both former President Donald Trump and Biden.
Taiwan has also seen a wave of visits from delegations from Europe and other Western allies in recent years, partly in response to Beijing’s more aggressive stance under the Chinese president. Xi Jinping.