- Chinese warplanes fly over the dividing line of the Taiwan Strait
- The visit of the US House of Representatives speaker angered Beijing
- Beijing insists that the autonomous Taiwan is part of China
TAIPEI (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday on a trip she said was meant to express U.S. solidarity with the island claimed by China, the first and risky visit of its kind in 25 years. Pushing relations between Washington and Beijing to a new low.
Pelosi and her delegation disembarked from a US Air Force relocation plan at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei, and were greeted by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Sandra Odekirk, the US top delegate to Taiwan.
“Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan fulfills 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 in Taiwan is more important today than ever before, as the world faces a choice between authoritarianism and democracy.” Read more
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China immediately condemned Pelosi’s visit, and the Foreign Ministry said it seriously harms peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, “has a serious impact on the political foundation of Sino-US relations, and seriously violates China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The ministry said it lodged a strong protest with the United States.
Chinese warplanes flew over the line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday before arriving, and Chinese state media said the People’s Liberation Army would conduct exercises near Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday.
Pelosi, second in the US presidential succession streak and a long-time critic of Beijing, was on a tour of Asia that includes public visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Its stop in Taiwan was not announced but was widely expected.
In an opinion piece published by The Washington Post shortly after her arrival, Pelosi explained the reasons for her visit, praising Taiwan’s commitment to democratic government while criticizing China for dramatically increasing tensions with Taiwan in recent years.
“We cannot stand idly by while the Chinese Communist Party continues to threaten Taiwan – and democracy itself,” Pelosi said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Pelosi also referred to China’s “brutal crackdown” on political dissent in Hong Kong, as well as its treatment of Uighur Muslims and other minorities, which the United States considers genocide.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier on Tuesday that US politicians who are “playing with fire” on the Taiwan issue “will not come to a good end.”
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said after Pelosi’s arrival that the United States “will not be intimidated” by threats or aggressive rhetoric from China. Kirby said the visit did not violate any of the sovereignty issues or the long-standing US “one China” policy.
“There is no reason for this visit to become a catalyst for 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. Four sources said she was also scheduled to meet on Wednesday afternoon with a group of activists who are speaking openly about China’s human rights record.
Pelosi, 82, is a close ally of US President Joe Biden, both members of the Democratic Party, and has been a key figure in guiding his legislative agenda through the US Congress.
On Tuesday night, Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building, was lit up with messages including: “Welcome to Taiwan,” “Speaker Pelosi,” and “Taiwan (the heart of) the USA.”
A source told Reuters that with tensions already escalating, several Chinese warplanes flew close to the line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning before leaving later in the day. The source said several Chinese warships have sailed near the unofficial dividing line since Monday and stayed there.
The person said the Chinese planes repeatedly made tactical moves by briefly “touching” the center line and returning to the other side of the strait while the Taiwanese planes were on standby nearby.
The planes of either side do not usually cross the midline.
Four US warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, have been stationed in waters east of Taiwan in what the US Navy described as a routine deployment. A US Navy official told Reuters that the carrier crossed the South China Sea and is now in the Philippine Sea, eastern Taiwan, the Philippines and southern Japan.
It was in service with the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and the destroyer USS Higgins, with the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli also in the area.
Since last week, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has conducted various exercises, including live-fire exercises, in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, in a display of China’s military might.
China regards US officials’ visits to Taiwan as an encouraging sign for the pro-independence camp on the democratic autonomous island. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never given up the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan rejects China’s claims to sovereignty and says only its own people can decide the island’s future.
The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is obligated under US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
Russia, which is at loggerheads with the West over its invasion of Ukraine, also took part in Pelosi’s expected visit. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said the visit was a provocative US attempt to intensify pressure on China, a country with which Russia has built a strong partnership in recent years.
“The United States is a provocateur of the state,” Zakharova said. Russia emphasizes the principle of “one China” and opposes the island’s independence in any way.
Earlier on Tuesday, Pelosi visited Malaysia, after she began her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday. Her office said she would also go to South Korea and Japan, but made no mention of visiting Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it has full control over military activities near Taiwan and will send troops appropriately in response to “enemy threats”.
China’s defense and foreign ministries did not respond to requests for comment.
In the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen, which lies off Taiwan and has a large military presence, residents reported seeing armored vehicles.
During a phone call last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Biden that Washington must adhere to the one-China principle and “those who play with fire will die with it.” Biden told Xi that US policy on Taiwan has not changed and Washington is firmly opposed to unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Bonnie Glaser, a Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told reporters in a phone call that the damage done to US-China relations by Pelosi’s visit will be hard to repair.
“We all know how bad this relationship has been in the last year,” Glaser said. “And I just think this visit of Nancy Pelosi is going to bring a new low.” “And I think it will be very difficult to recover from that.”
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Additional reporting by Yimo Lee and Sarah Wu. Additional reporting by Fabian Hammacher in Taipei, Yu Lun Tian in Beijing, and Patricia Gingerli in Washington. Writing by Tony Munro and Michael Martina; Editing by Angus McSwan, Will Dunham and Mark Heinrich
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