U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday on a trip she said demonstrates American solidarity with the Chinese-claimed self-ruled island, but China condemned this first such visit in 25 years as a threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Pelosi and the rest of her delegation disembarked from a U.S. Air Force transport plane at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei after the nighttime landing on a flight from Malaysia to begin a visit that risks pushing U.S.-Chinese relations to a new low. They were greeted by Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, and Sandra Oudkirk, the top U.S. representative in Taiwan.
“Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement shortly after landing. “America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen will meet with Pelosi, who is second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency and a long-time critic of Beijing, on Wednesday morning and then have lunch together, the presidential office said. Pelosi, travelling with six other American lawmakers, is the first U.S. House speaker to visit Taiwan since 1997.
China immediately condemned Pelosi’s visit, with the foreign ministry saying it seriously damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, “has a severe impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The ministry said it lodged a strong protest with the United States.
Chinese warplanes buzzed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait before her arrival. The Chinese military has been put on high alert and will launch “targeted military operations” in response to Pelosi’s visit, the defence ministry said.
The People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theatre Command announced that it will conduct joint air and sea drills near Taiwan starting on Tuesday night, and test-launch conventional missiles in the sea east of Taiwan.
Pelosi is on a tour of Asia that includes announced visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Her stop in Taiwan was unannounced but widely anticipated.
In a Washington Post opinion piece released shortly after she landed, Pelosi outlined her reasons for visiting, praising Taiwan’s commitment to democratic government while criticizing China as having dramatically increased tensions with Taiwan in recent years.
“We cannot stand by as the CCP proceeds to threaten Taiwan – and democracy itself,” Pelosi said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Pelosi also cited China’s “brutal crackdown” against political dissent in Hong Kong, as well as its treatment of Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities, which the United States has deemed genocide.
As Pelosi’s motorcade approached the hotel, escorted by police cars with flashing red and blue lights, scores of supporters cheered and ran towards the black vehicles with their arms outstretched and phone cameras on. The motorcade drove straight into the hotel’s parking lot.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said after Pelosi’s arrival that the United States “is not going to be intimidated” by threats or bellicose rhetoric from China. Kirby said the visit is not a violation of either any sovereignty issues or America’s longstanding “one-China policy.”
“There’s no reason for this visit to become a spurring event for a crisis or conflict,” Kirby said.
Pelosi, 82, is a close ally of U.S. President Joe Biden, both being members of the Democratic Party, and has been a key figure in guiding his legislative agenda through the U.S. Congress.
Four sources said Pelosi was also scheduled on Wednesday afternoon to meet a group of activists who are outspoken about China’s human rights record.
On Tuesday night, Taiwan’s tallest building, Taipei 101, lit up with messages including: “Welcome to Taiwan”, “Speaker Pelosi”, “Taiwan (heart) USA”.
China views visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp on the democratic, self-governed island. Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only its people can decide the island’s future.
The United States has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is bound by American law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
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With tensions already high, several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning before leaving later in the day, a source told Reuters. Several Chinese warships have also sailed near the unofficial dividing line since Monday and remained there, the source said.
The Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical moves of briefly “touching” the median line and circling back to the other side of the strait while Taiwanese aircraft were on standby nearby, the person said.
Neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line.
Four U.S. warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on what the U.S. Navy called routine deployments. The carrier had transited the South China Sea and was now in the Philippines Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan, a U.S. Navy official said.
It was operating with the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam and destroyer USS Higgins, with the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli also in the area.
Since last week, China’s PLA has conducted various exercises, including live-fire drills, in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, in a show of Chinese military might.
Russia – itself locked in confrontation with the West over its invasion of Ukraine – condemned Pelosi’s visit. Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said it was a provocative U.S. attempt to pressure China, a country with which Russia has forged a strong partnership in recent years.
“The USA is a state provocateur,” Zakharova said. “Russia confirms the principle of ‘one China’ and opposes the independence of the island in any form.”
During a phone call last Thursday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned Biden that Washington should abide by the one-China principle and “those who play with fire will perish by it”. Biden told Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.