DURING a trip to Taiwan on Sunday, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., met senior officials from the island, including its democratically elected president Tsai Ing-wen. The senators, who traveled to Taiwan on a private congressional mission, made no mention of any political differences when meeting with the president, or her deputy.
With President Donald Trump and his administration continuing to tread carefully on U.S.-China relations, the senators’ refusal to publicly criticize China’s intervention on Taiwan’s behalf suggests an emerging policy for relations with the communist superpower.
“I’m pleased to have had a chance to meet with President Tsai and with Vice President Ma along with other leaders from Taiwan in our common struggle for freedom and democracy and human rights,” Rubio said. “For years, Taiwan has fought a legal and political battle against China’s attempts to overturn its free and democratic government and rob its people of their fundamental human rights. This struggle is worth the trouble, it is worth the sacrifice, and it is worth our support and solidarity.”
Cardin added: “The people of Taiwan have fought for decades for their own independence, their own democracy and their own legal rights, and for a free and democratic society, and they have earned the enduring gratitude of people around the world.”
Rubio and Cardin were joined in Taiwan by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
“Democracy in Taiwan is strong and stable and it is not something that you can take for granted,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We are very grateful for Taiwan’s progress and we are committed to its future security and stability.”
Tsai praised the delegation’s visit during a press conference before returning to Taiwan.
“We will continue to promote the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights,” she said. “We will continue to fight against oppressors, and for the freedom and democracy of everyone, as people who are deeply committed to the well-being of Taiwan.”
The White House has raised the possibility of tensions with China in recent days, including during a cabinet meeting when Vice President Mike Pence said the relationship between the two countries “stands at a crossroads.”
“President Trump cares about America’s interests and he cares about your interests. And he wants to see you do well. And I am sure he will give you an earful on these issues if we are not seeing the progress you expect us to see,” Pence said.
The senators arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, just days after Tsai visited Washington and held meetings with U.S. lawmakers and administration officials. Her meeting with U.S. lawmakers marked the first time in her two-year presidency that a Taiwanese leader had met with a delegation of U.S. lawmakers in Washington.
In an emailed statement, the White House did not comment on the trip or the president’s prior criticism of Tsai’s visit to Washington.
But the statement did confirm the president’s attendance at a NATO summit this week.
“The President will attend a NATO summit this week in Brussels,” the statement said. “America’s close partnership with the alliance has been unwavering.”