US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has arrived in Taiwan on a trip she says is intended to express US solidarity with the Chinese-claimed island, the first such visit in 25 years.
Pelosi and her delegation disembarked from a US Air Force transport plan at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei and were greeted by Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu and Sandra Oudkirk, the top US representative in Taiwan.
“Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honours 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.”
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-US relations and seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The ministry said it had lodged a strong protest with the United States.
Chinese warplanes buzzed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday before her arrival, and Chinese state media said the People’s Liberation Army would hold exercises near Taiwan from Thursday through Sunday.
Pelosi, who is second in the line of succession to the US presidency and a long-time critic of China, was on a tour of Asia that includes announced visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
Her stop in Taiwan had not been announced but had been 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 criticising 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 Uighurs and other minorities, which the US government has deemed genocide.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier on Tuesday that US politicians who “play with fire” on the Taiwan issue will “come to no good end”.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said after Pelosi’s arrival that the US “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 the longstanding “one-China policy”.
“There’s no reason for this visit to become a spurring event for a crisis or conflict,” Kirby added.
Taiwan’s presidential office said President Tsai Ing-wen will meet with Pelosi on Wednesday morning and would have lunch with her.
Four sources said she was also scheduled on Wednesday afternoon to meet a group of activists who are outspoken about China’s human rights record.
Pelosi, 82, is a close ally of US President Joe Biden, both being members of the Democratic Party, and has been a key figure in guiding his legislative agenda through the US Congress.
On Tuesday night, Taiwan’s tallest building, Taipei 101, lit up with messages including: “Welcome to Taiwan”, “Speaker Pelosi”, “Taiwan (heart) USA”.
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 US warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on what the US 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 US navy official told Reuters.
Help keep independent and fair Sunshine Coast news coming by subscribing to our free daily news feed. All it requires is your name and email. See SUBSCRIBE at the top of this article.
China views visits by US officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp on the democratic, self-governed island.
China 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 US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.