During a historic trip to Taiwan on Wednesday, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her visit was aimed at making it “unequivocally clear” that the United States would “not abandon” the democratically-ruled island.
Pelosi’s trip, the first by a sitting American speaker in 25 years, had been foreshadowed for days. As the California Democrat left the island Wednesday afternoon for South Korea, there were already signs of the strains her visit to Taipei had placed on Washington’s relationship with Beijing, warning that her trip would have a “reduced impact.” harsh on China’s political base. – Relations with the United States.
China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party sees Taiwan as part of its territory, even though it has never controlled it and has long vowed to “reunify” the island with mainland China, by force if necessary.
Pelosi’s praise of the island’s commitment to democracy was a major show of support for Taipei, which came just hours after China threatened to retaliate for its presence with a series of military exercises that Taiwan’s Defense Ministry compared to a “sea and air blockade”.
Beijing had repeatedly warned of dire consequences if the trip went ahead, even going so far as to warn US President Joe Biden that those who played with fire would “perish” for it.
But warnings from Beijing — and even a suggestion from Biden himself that the US military thought the trip “wasn’t a good idea” — didn’t deter the 82-year-old Pelosi from flying to the island along with a congressional delegation. on Tuesday night and meet with their top officials.
“We are proud of our enduring friendship,” Pelosi said, speaking alongside Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei the morning after she arrived.
“Now more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial and that is the message we bring here today.”
Pelosi received a warm welcome in Taipei, with the city’s tallest building, Taipei 101, lit up with a welcoming message and supporters gathering outside her hotel, though her visit to the legislature on Wednesday drew some protesters. The video showed some people shouting, “Pelosi, get out,” and holding up banners that read, “Taiwan doesn’t want war.”
President Tsai thanked Pelosi for her visit, praised her longstanding commitment to democracy and human rights, and awarded her Taiwan’s highest civilian honor.
Beijing, within minutes of Pelosi’s arrival in Taipei, said it would immediately begin “a series of joint military operations around the island,” including the use of long-range live ammunition in the Taiwan Strait that separates the island. from mainland China.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry described the military exercises as “irrational” and amounting to a “lockdown.” He said the planned drills would violate Taiwan’s territorial waters, “threaten an international waterway, challenge international order, undermine the status quo across the Strait, and jeopardize regional security.”
On Tuesday, 21 Chinese fighter jets entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense. The raids were carried out by 10 J-16 fighter jets, eight J-11 fighter jets, a Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft, a Y-8 electronic intelligence aircraft and a KJ-500 early warning and control aircraft, the ministry said. .
On Wednesday, as Pelosi met with Taiwanese leaders, rubbed elbows and posed for photos, China suspended the import of citrus and some fish products from Taiwan, as well as the export of sand to the island.
Chinese Customs claimed that the suspension of citrus imports was a result of “pest control” and “excessive pesticide residue”, citing “Covid prevention” for the suspension of seafood imports. However, its previous bans on some Taiwanese products have often coincided with periods of escalating tensions.
President Tsai, like Pelosi, seemed indifferent to China’s warnings.
“Facing deliberately intensified military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said during a televised meeting with Pelosi.
“We will firmly uphold the sovereignty of our nation and continue to uphold the line of defense of democracy. At the same time, we wish to cooperate and work in unity with all the world’s democracies to jointly safeguard democratic values.”
Taiwan would do “whatever it takes” to strengthen its defensive capabilities, Tsai added, saying it was committed to “maintaining peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait and vowing to make Taiwan a “key stabilizing force” for regional security. and the development of global trade.
Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that “the United States stands with Taiwan” and that China “will not stand in the way” of people visiting the island.
“We have to show the world, and that is one of the purposes of our trip, to show the world the success of the people of Taiwan,” he said. “We want Taiwan to always have freedom safely and we are not going to back down on that.”
She too he praised Taiwan as “one of the freest societies in the world.”
Pelosi and the US congressional delegation also met with Taiwanese lawmakers and exchanged courtesies with Taiwanese Vice President Tsai Chi-chang before a closed-door meeting.
Pelosi is a longtime critic of the Chinese Communist Party. She has denounced Beijing’s human rights record and met with pro-democracy dissidents and the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who remains a thorn in the Chinese government’s side.
In 1991, Pelosi unfurled a banner in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate the victims of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters. Most recently, he expressed his support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
On Wednesday, Pelosi and the congressional delegation left the self-governing island around 6 pm local time, departing from Taiwan’s Songshan Airport.
This story has been updated with additional developments.