US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late Tuesday and became the most senior US official in 25 years to visit the China-claimed island, which soon announced it would conduct military maneuvers in retaliation for her presence.
Pelosi arrived aboard a US Air Force passenger plane and was greeted on the tarmac of Taipei International Airport by Taiwan’s foreign minister and other Taiwanese and US officials. She posed for photos before her motorcade took her undetected to a hotel parking garage.
Pelosi’s visit has heightened tensions between China and the United States, as China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and sees visits by foreign government officials as recognition of the island’s sovereignty.
The speaker summarized the trip as part of a broader mission at a time when ‘the world is faced with a choice between autocracy and democracy’.
Her visit comes after she led a congressional delegation to the Ukrainian capital Kiev in the spring, and it serves as the culmination of her years of promoting democracy abroad.
“We must support Taiwan,” she said in an op-ed published by The Washington Post upon her arrival in Taiwan. She cited the US commitment to a democratic Taiwan under a 1979 law.
“It is essential that America and our allies make it clear that we will never give in to autocrats,” she wrote.
Shortly after Pelosi’s arrival, China announced a series of military operations and exercises, following promises of “resolute and firm measures” if it proceeded with her visit.
The People’s Liberation Army said the maneuvers would take place in the waters and skies near Taiwan from Tuesday evening, including the firing of long-range ammunition into the Taiwan Strait.
“This move is a solemn deterrent to the recent major escalation of negative actions by the United States on Taiwan, and a serious warning to Taiwan’s ‘independence forces’ seeking ‘independence’.”
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said early on Wednesday that China had sent 21 planes to Taiwan, including 18 fighter jets. The rest included an early warning aircraft and an electronic warfare aircraft.
China’s official Xinhua News said the military planned to conduct live fire drills at multiple locations from Thursday to Sunday.
In an image released by the news agency, the exercises are said to take place in six different areas in the waters around Taiwan.
The Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will launch a series of joint military operations around the island of Taiwan from Tuesday evening. https://t.co/2z7WqDZqR1 pic.twitter.com/iIE1WApW52
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington’s actions “undermine its national credibility on the Taiwanese issue”.
“Some US politicians are playing with fire on the Taiwan issue,” Wang said in a statement. “This certainly won’t have a good outcome… the exposure of America’s plague face once again shows it as the world’s greatest saboteur of peace.”
Beijing sees official US contact with Taiwan as an encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a move US leaders say they do not support.
Pelosi, head of one of the three branches of the US government, is the most senior elected US official to visit Taiwan since then-speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
The Biden administration has not explicitly urged Pelosi to call off her plans. It has repeatedly and publicly assured Beijing that the visit would not indicate a change in US policy towards Taiwan.
On Tuesday, after Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House that China had positioned itself to take further actions against Taiwan, including possible “economic coercion.” .
A day earlier, Kirby noted that members of Congress have visited the island regularly over the years — in April, Senator Lindsey Graham led a delegation of six lawmakers from both parties to Taiwan, while the then-U.S. Secretary of Health visited the island. visited 2020.
US officials have said the US military would increase its movement of troops and resources in the Indo-Pacific region. Four US warships, including an aircraft carrier, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on what the US Navy called routine deployment, a US naval official told Reuters on Tuesday.
US considers funds for Taiwan
Back in the United States, 26 Republican lawmakers issued a statement of rare bipartisan support for the Democratic speaker, calling members of Congress travel to Taiwan routine.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he supported Pelosi’s visit as a show of support for Taiwanese democracy and said any allegations that her itinerary was provocative are “utterly absurd”.
“I think she has every right to go,” McConnell said in a Senate speech.
Senators consider legislation to bolster Taiwan’s defenses as a direct response to China’s rhetoric. The Taiwan Policy Act, which is backed by both sides, will be discussed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
The package would bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities with nearly $4.5 billion US ($5.6 billion Cdn) in security assistance over the next four years and provide other support to Taiwan’s democratic government and civil society. The measure would also designate Taiwan as a “major non-NATO ally”, opening the door to greater security and trade benefits.
Backers call it the most comprehensive restructuring of US policy toward Taiwan since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
Pelosi has been trying to draw attention to Chinese democratic movements for decades. She traveled to Tiananmen Square in 1991, two years after China crushed a wave of anti-democracy protests.
In 2009, she handed over a letter to then-President Hu Jintao, calling for the release of political prisoners. She had attempted to visit Taiwan’s island democracy earlier this year before testing positive for COVID-19.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after the communists won a civil war on the mainland.
The US maintains informal and defense relations with Taiwan, even though it recognizes Beijing as the government of China. The Taiwan Relations Act, which governed relations between the US and the island, does not require the US to intervene militarily if China invades, but rather makes it US policy to ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself and to any unilateral status change by Beijing.
China is steadily increasing diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. China cut all contact with the Taiwanese government in 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse his claim that the island and mainland form one Chinese nation.
Beijing sees official US contact with Taiwan as an encouragement to make the island’s decades-old independence permanent, a move US leaders say they do not support, despite some inaccurate statements in recent years from both President Joe Biden and his predecessor. Donald Trump, whose administration opened a de facto embassy in Taiwan.
Pelosi kicked off her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday and is also expected to meet officials in South Korea later this week.