TAIPEI, Aug 2 (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday, said the trip was aimed at expressing U.S. solidarity with the island claimed by China, It was the first such visit in 25 years, and it threatens to push Washington’s relationship with Beijing to a new low.
Pelosi and her delegation disembarked from a U.S. Air Force transport program at Songshan Airport in central Taipei, where they were greeted by Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and the top U.S. representative to Taiwan, Sandra Alderkirk.
“Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan commemorates America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement shortly after landing. “Today, the United States stands in solidarity with Taiwan’s 23 million people. More important than ever, as the world faces a choice between authoritarianism and democracy.” Read more
China immediately condemned Pelosi’s visit, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said severely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, “seriously affected the political foundation of Sino-US relations, and seriously violated China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The ministry said it had lodged a strong protest with the United States.
On Tuesday, ahead of her arrival, Chinese warplanes hummed along the dividing line in the Taiwan Strait, and Chinese state media said the People’s Liberation Army would conduct exercises near Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday.
Pelosi, the second-in-line to succeed the U.S. president and a longtime critic of Beijing, is on an Asian tour that includes announcing visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Her stop in Taiwan has not been announced but has been widely anticipated.
In a Washington Post opinion piece published shortly after her landing, Pelosi outlined the reasons for her visit, praising Taiwan’s commitment to democratic government while criticizing China’s sharp rise in tensions with Taiwan in recent years.
“As the CCP continues to threaten Taiwan and democracy itself, we cannot stand idly by,” Pelosi said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Pelosi also cited China’s “brutal crackdown” on political dissidents in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, which the United States considers genocide.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier on Tuesday that U.S. politicians “playing with fire” on the Taiwan issue “will not end well”.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said after Pelosi’s arrival that the United States “will not be intimidated by threats or belligerent rhetoric” from China. Kirby said the visit violated neither any sovereignty issue nor the longstanding “one China policy” of the United States.
“There is no reason for this visit to be a stimulus to a crisis or conflict,” Kirby added.
Taiwan’s presidential office said President Tsai Ing-wen will meet Pelosi on Wednesday morning and have lunch with her. She also plans to meet on Wednesday afternoon with a group of activists who have been outspoken about China’s human rights record, four sources said.
Pelosi, 82, is a close ally of U.S. President Joe Biden, both members of the Democratic Party and has been a key figure in steering his legislative agenda through the U.S. Congress.
On Tuesday night, Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taiwan, lit up with messages such as “Welcome to Taiwan,” “Speaker Pelosi,” and “Taiwan (Heart) America.”
With tensions already high, several Chinese warplanes flew near the centerline of 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 and have been staying there since Monday, the sources said.
The Chinese plane repeatedly made tactical maneuvers to briefly “touch” the center line and circle back across the strait, while the Taiwanese plane was on standby nearby, the person said.
Aircraft on either side usually do not cross the center line.
Four U.S. warships, including the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, were deployed in waters east of Taiwan in what the U.S. Navy calls a conventional deployment. A U.S. Navy official told Reuters that the carrier had passed through the South China Sea and is now located in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan.
It fought alongside the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and the destroyer USS Higgins, as well as the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli in the area.
Since last week, the People’s Liberation Army has conducted various exercises, including live-fire exercises, in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, demonstrating China’s military might.
China sees the visit by U.S. officials to Taiwan as an encouraging signal to the Taiwan independence camp on the democratic self-governing island. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never given up on the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Taiwan rejects China’s claims of sovereignty and says only the people of Taiwan can determine its future.
The U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is bound by U.S. law to provide Taiwan with means of self-defense.
Russia – itself antagonizing the West over its invasion of Ukraine – also joined Pelosi on the expected visit. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the visit was a provocative attempt by the United States to put pressure on China, with which Russia has forged a strong partnership in recent years.
“The United States is a national provocateur,” Zakharova said. “Russia affirms the ‘one China’ principle and opposes any form of island independence.”
Pelosi visited Malaysia earlier on Tuesday and started her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday. Her office said she would also go to South Korea and Japan, but did not mention Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it was fully aware of military activities near Taiwan and would appropriately mobilize troops to deal with “enemy threats.”
China’s defense ministry and foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
In the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen, which is opposite Taiwan and has a large military presence, residents reported seeing armored vehicles.
In a phone call last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Biden that Washington should adhere to the one-China principle and that “whoever plays with fire will perish.” Biden told Xi that the U.S. policy toward Taiwan has not changed, and Washington strongly opposes efforts to unilaterally change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Bonnie Glaser, an expert on Taiwan at the German Marshall Foundation in the United States, told reporters by phone that the damage to U.S.-China relations caused by Pelosi’s visit will be difficult to repair.
“We all know how bad this relationship has been over the past year. I just think this visit by Nancy Pelosi will only take it to a new low,” Glaser said. “And I think it’s very difficult to recover from it.”
Reporting by Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu; Additional reporting by Fabian Hamacher in Taipei, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Tony Monroe and Michael Martina; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Will Dunham and Mark Heinrich
Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.