Updated Aug 26, 2022 - World

Sen. Blackburn calls Taiwan a "country" during meeting with President Tsai

A screenshot of Sen. Marsha Blackburn and  Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during their meeting in Taipei on Friday.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (left) and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during their meeting in Taipei on Friday. Screenshot: Tsai Ing-wen's Facebook feed

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) referred to Taiwan as a "country" during a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on Friday.

Why it matters: Blackburn made her comment in person, but her spokesperson confirmed to Axios she deliberately used the word. It's likely to further anger Beijing, which has warned of consequences for the U.S. if American officials continue to visit the island it sees as a breakaway province.

A screenshot of a tweet by Sen. Marsha Blackburn in which she says she stands with Taiwan and Chinese President Xi Jing Ping "doesn't scare me."
Photo: Sen. Marsha Blackburn/Twitter
  • The U.S. government has a long-running policy of "strategic ambiguity" on Taiwan — acknowledging that Beijing considers Taipei part of "one China," but opposing any attempts to change its self-governing, democratic status by force.

Worth noting: Blackburn and her delegation are not representing the Biden administration on their trip, which will also take them to Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Context: The senator said during her meeting with Tsai that she remembers her 2008 visit to Taiwan fondly "and the opportunity to get to see some of your country firsthand," according to a live video posted to the president's Facebook page.

  • Blackburn also called Taiwan a country during a speech at July's Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, and said she and "we as a nation are proud to support them."

The big picture: Blackburn is the latest of several U.S. officials to visit Taiwan since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit there earlier this month led the Chinese military to hold live drills near the island.

What they're saying: "Taiwan is our strongest partner in the Indo-Pacific Region. Regular high-level visits to Taipei are long-standing U.S. policy," Blackburn said in a statement on Thursday announcing her arrival in Taipei. "I will not be bullied by Communist China into turning my back on the island," she continued.

  • "During my visit to Taiwan, I look forward to hearing directly from the nation's leadership about their needs and how we can support freedom for the Taiwanese people," Blackburn added.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee member has criticized Chinese President Xi Jing and his government in several tweets since arriving in Taiwan, including one saying: "I will never kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party."

Meanwhile, Tai noted before Blackburn spoke at their public meeting that "many public figures from a broad spectrum of U.S. society" have visited Taiwan in recent times.

  • "These warm acts of kindness and firm demonstrations of support have reinforced Taiwan's determination to defend itself," she said, according to a live video posted to Tsai's Facebook page.

Go deeper: International show of support for Taiwan grows

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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