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New top US envoy to Taiwan pledges to help the island with self-defense as threats from China loom

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The United States’ new top envoy to Taiwan promised Wednesday that Washington will help the self-ruled island defend itself as China ramps up its military threats.

The weight of the message from Raymond Greene, who assumed his new role as director of the American Institute in Taiwan on Monday, was underscored by the strong show of force from China’s People Liberation Army displayed toward Taiwan on the same day.

“First of all, and the most important thing, the U.S. will strongly support Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities,” Greene said as he met with Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te. “We both have common and long-term interests in peace and stability over the Taiwan Strait.”

Lai said Taiwan will strive to maintain the status quo with Beijing, which claims the island democracy of 23 million people as its own territory, to be reclaimed by force if necessary.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry also said Wednesday it detected 36 Chinese military jets, including J-16 fighters and H-6 bombers, flying south and southeast of the island and headed into the Western Pacific to carry out drills with China’s Shandong aircraft carrier.

By Thursday morning, that number had ratcheted up to 66 warplanes in total, across a 24-hour period. Taiwan also said it tracked 7 warships around its waters.

The U.S., like most countries, does not recognize Taiwan as a country. But it’s the island’s main partner and is bound by U.S. laws to provide it with the means to defend itself. Less than a month ago, the U.S. State Department approved the sale to Taiwan of missiles and drones for an estimated $360 million.

In April, the House of Representatives approved an $8 billion military aid package for Taiwan.

“Taiwan and the U.S. are solid partners to each other who strive to maintain regional peace and stability,” Lai said Wednesday.

The Chinese government didn’t immediately comment on the meeting.

The American Institute in Taiwan functions as a de facto embassy. Taipei also operates an Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S. and similar de facto embassies in other countries.

China has ramped up its military pressure against the island since Lai took office in May. Beijing sees Lai as a separatist and refuses to speak with him.

In late June, Beijing threatened to hunt down and execute “hardcore” Taiwan independence supporters. In response, Taipei urged its citizens to avoid traveling to China and the semi-autonomous Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao.

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