TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Invited to attend the high-profile National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Taiwan's vice president-elect William Lai (賴清德) on Tuesday (Feb. 4) visited US Senators Jim Risch (R) and Bob Menendez (D), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The National Prayer Breakfast, inaugurated in 1953 and hosted by members of the US Congress, is scheduled for Wednesday (Feb. 5) and Thursday (Feb. 6) Eastern Standard Time.
Before the event, Lai had met several heavyweight senators, including Marco Rubio (R) on Feb. 3 and four others the next day. According to the news release from the committee, senators expressed their strong support for a US-Taiwan free trade agreement (FTA) as well as Taiwan's "full inclusion" in the meetings of the World Health Organization (WHO) during their conversations with Lai, who assumes office in May.
Menendez told Lai he is looking forward to working closely with him and President Tsai Ing-wen's new administration to strengthen bilateral bonds. "Whether it is bilateral security or economic and trade relations, the importance of the relationship between Taiwan and the United States cannot be overstated.”
Lai also met with Senator Cory Gardner (R), chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. Gardner reaffirmed that the U.S. Congress will continue to advocate on behalf of Taiwan and the Taiwanese people as guided under U.S. law by means of the Taiwan Relations Act, the Taiwan Travel Act, and his own sponsored Asia Reassurance Initiative Act.
Gardner criticized the WHO's decision of continuing to exclude Taiwan during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 492 and infected 24,542 worldwide at the time of publication. He spoke up for the island country:
"As China continues its aggressive campaign to delegitimize Taiwan, it's critically important for the United States to reaffirm our support for Taiwan’s resilient and vibrant democracy, and to further grow the bonds of friendship between the people of Taiwan and the United States.”
Chuck Grassley (R), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also welcomed the visit by Lai. He later tweeted about the meeting with "the Vice President-elect of Taiwan" in which they talked about shared values of democracy and religious freedom. Grassley concluded the tweet by congratulating Lai on his victory in the January election.
After day-long meetings on Tuesday, Lai revealed his meetings with the four US senators and relayed their messages of strong supports to Taiwan over the issues of a US-Taiwan FTA as well as Taiwan's inclusion in the WHO to gain accurate and immediate information about the deadly novel coronavirus.