Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in Taipei
Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. Reuters

The speaker of Taiwan's parliament during a forum for international religious freedom in Washington on Wednesday stressed the importance of defending the island's democracy in the face of pressure from China.

In an address to the International Religious Freedom Summit, You Si-kun sharply criticized Beijing's suppression of religious minorities and described Taiwan as the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world.

He also stressed the self-governed, but Chinese-claimed island's strategic importance at the center of key global sea lanes and as an important producer of semiconductors.

"So it's very important to safeguard Taiwan, especially its democracy," he said.

"If Taiwan falls into the sphere of influence of CCP, then the beacon of democracy will be destroyed. And China may invade the first island chain, and will cause a threat to the entire world," You said, referring to China's ruling Communist Party and its ambitions in the Pacific region.

Speaking through a translator, You said about 50% of global shipping used the Taiwan Strait between the island and China, "so it has very important economic significance for the global trade."

"And ... Taiwan has produced the best semiconductor chips and will be very important for global trade as well," he said. "So if Taiwan cannot be safeguarded very carefully, it will be very dangerous to global trade as well as global peace."

You, who belongs to Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party but does not speak for President Tsai Ing-wen, is in Washington amid speculation that Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy could soon visit the island.

Speaking to reporters later, You declined to say whether he would meet with U.S. officials or McCarthy while in the United States. He said China had overreacted to such congressional visits, which he called "very normal."

In August, then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, visited Taiwan and met Tsai, defying warnings from China, which launched military drills around the island in response, raising fears that Beijing may carry out its threat to reclaim the island by force if necessary.

Since then, Taiwan has welcomed a wave of U.S. lawmakers, and speculation has swirled around whether McCarthy would travel there this spring or summer. McCarthy last year expressed interest in visiting Taiwan if he became speaker, a role he assumed in January after Republicans took control of the House in November's midterm elections.

Like most countries, the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

Washington has long stuck to a policy of "strategic ambiguity" and not making clear whether it would respond militarily to an attack on Taiwan. However, President Joe Biden said in September that U.S forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, his most explicit statement on the issue.

You Si-kun pauses during an interview at his office in Taipei
You Si-kun pauses during an interview at his office in Taipei June 5, 2007. Reuters