Maine’s congressional delegation responded Friday with strong words for China’s escalating actions in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week.
China declared Friday that it was stopping all dialogue with the United States on major issues, including crucial climate cooperation between the two nations that led to the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Accords, The Associated Press reported.
China’s announcement came after Ambassador Qin Gang was summoned to the White House on Thursday in protest of recent military actions by China, including live-fire missile tests that splashed down in waters surrounding Taiwan, according to The Washington Post.
China said Friday that more than 100 warplanes and 10 warships have taken part in military drills surrounding Taiwan, while announcing mainly symbolic sanctions against Pelosi and her family. China’s Rocket Force also fired projectiles over Taiwan into the Pacific, military officers told state media.
“China should abandon this provocative, irresponsible and disproportionate response,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a written statement to the Press Herald.
Collins drew a straight line between China’s aggressive actions and the need to fund military shipbuilding that would benefit Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.
“This aggression demonstrates the need for Congress to quickly pass a robust Fiscal Year 2023 defense funding bill that includes increased investment in our shipbuilding capacity and other capabilities that will deter China,” Collins said.
Collins reiterated her support for Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan as part of a diplomatic tour of Asia. During Pelosi’s brief stay in Taiwan, arriving late Tuesday and departing Wednesday evening, she addressed the island’s parliament, stopped by the National Human Rights Museum and held a televised meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
“For decades, members of the United States Congress, including a previous speaker of the house, have traveled to Taiwan,” Collins said. “This travel is consistent with the United States’ One China policy, to which we are committed.”
Collins also said the U.S. is committed, “now, more than ever, to all elements of the Taiwan Relations Act,” which made it U.S. policy “to preserve and promote extensive, close and friendly commercial, cultural and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, as well as the people on the China mainland and all other people of the Western Pacific area.”
The live-fire missile tests are expected to continue through Sunday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters in Cambodia, said China had “no justification” for such “provocative actions” that take “dangerous acts to a new level.” Blinken also said he has urged Beijing to back down.
At the White House Thursday, U.S. officials told Ambassador Qin that the military exercises were “irresponsible and at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. “We also made clear that the United States is prepared for what Beijing chooses to do.”
U.S. officials had been meeting regularly with their Chinese counterparts over the dispute, Kirby said.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry said dialogue between U.S. and Chinese regional commanders and defense department heads would be canceled, along with talks on military maritime safety. Cooperation on returning illegal immigrants, criminal investigations, transnational crime, illegal drugs and climate change also will be suspended, the ministry said.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, independent-Maine, said communication between U.S. and Chinese officials should continue and he urged U.S. leaders to foster a bipartisan effort to better understand China’s motivations and goals.
“An aggrieved and confrontational China is a serious concern to the United States and the free world,” King said in a written statement to the Press Herald. “Maintaining open lines of communication is essential – never more so than in an interconnected, real-time age. Silence between foes only elevates distrust and hostilities, which is an unnecessary error to make in the nuclear era.”
King said he believes the U.S. must establish a bipartisan, public-private commission to better understand China from historical, economic, diplomatic and military perspectives. It should be modeled after the Cyberspace Solarium Commission that he co-chaired, he said.
“We must engage with this dangerous reality from all perspectives to avoid the pitfalls of an accidental conflict and work toward diplomatic solutions,” King said.
In a Washington Post column, Ambassador Qin said Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was a provocative act, including “full-protocol treatment” by leaders of Taiwan’s governing Democratic Progressive Party, “who make no secret of pursuing independence” from China. He said Pelosi’s visit thus violated a long-standing U.S. commitment not to develop official relations with Taiwan.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, noted that China’s actions come ahead of a key congress of the ruling Communist Party later this year, when President Xi Jinping is expected to obtain a third five-year term as party leader. With the economy stumbling, the party has stoked nationalism and targeted Taiwan’s leaders for refusing to recognize China’s rule.
“With these actions, the Chinese communist party has shown it is willing to endanger regional and world security to bolster Xi Jinping’s attempt to grab more power,” Pingree said in a written statement to the Press Herald. “(It) only reinforces the importance of Speaker Pelosi’s trip and American solidarity with Taiwan.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, called China’s military exercises near Taiwan and suspension of channels for dialog “dangerous and irresponsible,” adding that “Taiwan is an important ally and does not belong to China, and all members of Congress and U.S. leaders should be able to freely go there.”
“Beijing’s coercive measures to pressure Taiwan demonstrate the need for continued U.S. support to Taipei,” Golden said in a written statement, referring to Taiwan’s capital.
“American support for Taiwan is important not only because Taiwan is a democracy near China’s authoritarian shores, but also because Taiwan produces strategically important technologies that directly impacts U.S. national security interests,” Golden continued. “This makes China’s aggressive behavior towards Taiwan’s sovereignty, not unlike Russia’s actions towards Ukraine, particularly concerning. That’s one reason why I’ve signed onto a bill to enter America into a lend-lease agreement with Taiwan.”
Bruce Poliquin, a former Republican congressman who is challenging Golden this fall, did not directly address China’s military escalation. Instead, he slammed Pelosi for making the trip, even though Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have defended her visit.
“Instead of traveling to the Far East, Speaker Pelosi and her Democrat majority in Congress would be more helpful to American families by stopping the wasteful spending of trillions of dollars of borrowed and printed money which has caused the highest inflation since Jimmy Carter,” Poliquin said in a written statement.
Tiffany Bond, an independent candidate for the 2nd District, said she wasn’t surprised by China’s response and supported the U.S. policy toward Taiwan. She supported Pelosi’s decision to visit, saying “last time I checked, China doesn’t hold a decision-making role in Congress.”
“I don’t think it’s a great surprise to anyone that China has a habit of sabre-rattling,” Bond said in a written statement. “I’m not inclined to think that we should be altering historic relationships to placate a noisy neighbor.”
Meanwhile, Republican Ed Thelander, who is challenging Pingree this fall, did not directly respond to questions about Pelosi’s visit and China’s response.
“My 21 years as a Navy SEAL taught me to solve the problem at hand, and that means I’m focused on fixing the problems Chellie Pingree and Pelosi are causing people here at home,” Thelander said in a written statement. “According to Federal Reserve economists, their votes have contributed to the higher inflation that’s hurting us all.”
China’s actions Friday, which come amid cratering relations between Beijing and Washington, are the latest in a promised series of steps intended to punish the U.S. for allowing the visit to the island it claims as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.
China has accused the Biden administration of an attack on Chinese sovereignty, although Pelosi is head of the legislative branch of government and Biden had no authority to prevent her visit. The speaker is the highest-ranking U.S. politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
Dialogue and exchanges between China and the U.S., particularly on military matters and economic exchanges, have generally been halting at best. Climate change and fighting trade in illegal drugs such as fentanyl were, however, areas where they had found common cause. Beijing’s suspension of cooperation could have significant implications for efforts to achieve progress on those issues.
A joint U.S.-China deal to fight climate change struck by Xi and then-President Obama in 2014 has been hailed as a turning point that led to the breakthrough Paris agreement in which nearly every nation pledged to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Seven years later, during climate talks in Glasgow, another U.S.-China agreement helped to secure another international climate deal. China and the U.S. are the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 climate polluters, together producing nearly 40 percent of all fossil-fuel emissions.
Staff writer Randy Billings contributed to this report.