TAIPEI, Taiwan — Media and crowds gathered at Taipei airport Tuesday to watch the arrival of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
Huang Chao-yuan, a 53-year-old business owner, staked out the area near Songshan airport to watch Ms. Pelosi’s plane land, calling the speaker’s visit a “historic moment.”
“I am very excited about your visit today, because it is an example showing that the United States does not need to argue with the CCP, it can come here if it wants, and whoever Taiwan invites can come,” Ms. Huang said. using the acronym for the Chinese Communist Party. “This incident demonstrates the independence of Taiwan.”
Henry Chang, 32, a videographer who was at the airport to witness Ms Pelosi’s landing, marveled at the novelty of seeing such a high-profile US lawmaker arrive.
“It was like catching a rare Pokemon,” he said.
He said he was not worried that the visit might lead to a military conflict. “I feel like a war just couldn’t happen, everyone will get on with their lives,” he said.
A video provided by a Tibetan activist, Tashi Tsering, showed people gathering Tuesday night outside the Grand Hyatt Taipei, where Pelosi was expected to spend the night. Several of them held banners that read: “Taiwan public welcomes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” “Taiwan is helping,” and “Taiwan ≠ China.”
Outside the hotel, several dozen supporters of unification with China protested against Ms. Pelosi’s visit, some calling on her to “get out of Taiwan” and others holding up signs denouncing her.
“I feel bittersweet watching Pelosi land,” said one man in the crowd, Sam Lin, owner of a recycling company. “It is sad to see the tensions in the strait rising, but I am also excited to see that our reunification with China is becoming more feasible.”
Mr. Lin, 50, added: “I don’t want to see a war, but the current cross-strait relations have reached another stage.”
In contrast to the protest, in the capital’s central business district, Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building and a major landmark in the city’s skyline, was lit up with messages of welcome to Ms. Pelosi.
In Taiwan, many are used to threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory. A showdown between Washington and Beijing over the speaker’s trip received little attention before Tuesday. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen kept quiet in the days leading up to Pelosi’s arrival, though political advisers close to her have said they welcome visits from US officials.
In a sign of how many in Taiwan have grown tired of China’s threats, Alexander Huang, a senior China-friendly Kuomintang official, said he welcomed Ms. Pelosi’s visit and had a “rich” agenda. ahead on the island.
During her visit, Ms. Pelosi is scheduled to visit the Taiwan Legislature and meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, according to a Taiwanese lawmaker and a local official. She is also scheduled to attend a banquet at the Taipei Guest House and visit the National Museum of Human Rights.
Mr. Huang said the visit’s low-key approach reflected planning designed to avoid exacerbating an already tense situation with China.
“They did not make a statement to the outside world, trying not to antagonize the other side, and they had done their best so that the situation in the Taiwan Strait was not too tense,” he said.
He said what concerned him most was the mainland’s military response, in particular, what China might do after Pelosi leaves. He said it was possible that China would take steps to further isolate Taiwan internationally. In recent years, China has attracted a number of nations that recognize Taiwan as a country and have isolated it from major international agencies such as the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, Taiwan’s military said it would strengthen combat readiness in anticipation of a possible response from China.