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BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday it had held new military drills around Taiwan, as a delegation of visiting U.S. lawmakers met with the island’s leader after a similar trip by the president of the House, Nancy Pelosi, heightened fears of 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 — met with President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, according to the de facto embassy in Washington.

“The delegation had the opportunity to exchange views with their Taiwanese counterparts on a wide range of issues important to the United States and Taiwan,” he said.

The bipartisan trip prompted a caustic response from Beijing, which said it carried out “combat readiness patrol and combat drills in the sea and airspace around the island of Taiwan” on Monday.

“This is a solemn deterrent against the United States and Taiwan to continue playing political tricks and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” spokesperson Shi Yi said. of the Chinese Army’s Eastern Theater Command, in a statement, vowing to “resolutely defend national sovereignty.”

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 and bristles at any perceived treatment as a sovereign nation-state.

In response to the delegation’s visit, Beijing called on Washington to “stop going further down the wrong path of digging into and distorting the one-China principle, so as not to cause further damage to China-China relations.” -Americans and to peace and stability in Taiwan”. Detroit.”

“China will take firm and vigorous measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a regular briefing.

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 “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.”

Taipei has remained defiant throughout the standoff with Beijing, with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu saying after a meeting with the delegation that their visit showed the island had not been intimidated by China’s threats.

“Authoritarian China cannot dictate how democratic Taiwan makes friends, wins support, remains resilient and shines as a beacon of freedom,” Wu said in a tweet.

“Their visit demonstrates once again that China cannot dictate or order politicians from other countries not to visit Taiwan,” said Lo Chih-cheng, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). .

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 in the United States, with lawmakers free to travel wherever they choose, and Taiwan enjoys bipartisan support in a divided Washington.

The United States transferred its 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 both Taiwan’s declaration of independence and China’s forced change of the island’s status.

He remains deliberately ambiguous about whether he would come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if China invaded.

Visits by senior US officials to Taiwan have happened for decades and even Pelosi’s trip was not unprecedented – then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich visited there 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 by delegations from Europe and other Western allies in recent years, partly in response to Beijing’s more aggressive stance under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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