(Bloomberg) -- A delegation of US lawmakers led by Republican Mike Gallagher delivered a strong message of support for Taiwan on the first day of a visit that may exacerbate an already fraught relationship between the island and China.

The group met with President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President and president-elect Lai Ching-te and legislative leaders in Taipei Thursday. Gallagher, who chairs the House’s China committee, has previously called for bolstering the island’s defenses and curbing the US’s economic ties with the Asian nation.

“If Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party were to ever make the incredibly foolish decision to attempt an invasion of Taiwan, that effort would fail,” Gallagher said during a meeting with Lai. “As you look forward to assuming the office of the presidency, America stands with Taiwan and you can draw upon a deep reservoir of friendship and support from the United States Congress.”

The visit by the US lawmakers comes amid tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Two Chinese fishermen died last week when their speedboat capsized as they were being pursued by the island’s Coast Guard near an offshore Taiwanese outpost. Two other Chinese fishermen were rescued, and were deported.

Beijing responded by increasing patrols in the narrow stretch of water that separates the Taiwanese island of Kinmen from China, at one point boarding a tourist boat. The US called for the dispute to be handled calmly, with State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller saying Tuesday that Washington was “closely monitoring Beijing’s actions.”

In response to Gallagher’s visit, China reiterated its opposition to what it sees as US interference in Taiwan’s affairs. Beijing urged the US to “stop official contact with Taiwan or sending any wrong signals to separatist forces for Taiwan independence,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

Read More: China Coast Guard Boards Taiwan Tour Boat, Escalating Spat

Last month, Lai secured a historic third straight presidential term for the Democratic Progressive Party. His victory will likely frustrate China’s efforts to bring Taiwan under its control. Beijing sees the island as part of its territory, to be taken by force if necessary, and has condemned Lai as a “troublemaker” who seeks formal independence.

China tends to respond to visits by US lawmakers by sending warplanes and ships into sensitive areas around Taiwan, forays that wear down the island’s smaller military. The People’s Liberation Army held major exercises around the island of 23 million people twice since August 2022 because Tsai met top US lawmakers.  

Visits from US officials to Taipei are fairly common. Representatives Ami Bera and Mario Diaz-Balart, co-chairs of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, traveled to Taiwan and met senior officials including Tsai and Lai last month.

The latest delegation includes representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi, John Moolenaar, Dusty Johnson and Seth Moulton, according to a statement from the American Institute in Taiwan, the US’s representative office in Taipei. Their visit is part of a wider trip to the region.

Gallagher, who has said he won’t seek re-election, has expressed support for Taiwan in the past. He called on Washington to arm the island “to the teeth” against Chinese military intimidation in an op-ed last month.

The select committee on competition with China was formed last year to counter Beijing’s rising geopolitical influence. Krishnamoorthi is the ranking Democrat on the panel, which recently met to discuss ways to reduce the US biotechnology industry’s vulnerability to its top geostrategic rival.

That approach should include vetting inbound investments, barring federal contracts with designated Chinese firms, curbing outbound investments in China’s biotech supply chain and applying export controls, Krishnamoorthi said.

--With assistance from Lucille Liu.

(Updated the first paragraph and added new comments in paragraphs three and six.)

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