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Pelosi visits Taiwan in show of support; China vows ‘targeted’ military response

House Speaker is highest ranking US official in 25 years to go to island nation claimed by Beijing, defies Chinese warnings to stay away, stoking regional tensions

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, walks with Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, as she arrives in Taipei, Taiwan, Aug. 2, 2022.  (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, walks with Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, as she arrives in Taipei, Taiwan, Aug. 2, 2022. (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday evening, defying a string of increasingly stark warnings and threats from China that warned it will give a military response to the visit.

Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years and Beijing has made clear that it regards her presence as a major provocation, setting the region on edge.

Live television images showed the 82-year-old lawmaker, who flew on a US military aircraft into Taipei Songshan Airport, being greeted on arrival by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

Pelosi said in a statement just after her arrival that the US delegation’s visit “honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy.”

“Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan -– and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy,” she said.

However, she said, “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.”

The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement that Pelosi’s trip was “extremely dangerous.”

Beijing’s Defense Ministry threatened a military response.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is on high alert and will launch a series of targeted military operations to counter this, resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and resolutely thwart external interference and ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist attempts,” Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement condemning the visit.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby rejected Beijing’s sharp criticism of the visit, saying it was not the first by a US lawmaker to Taiwan.

“There’s no violation of any sovereignty issues here,” Kirby told CNN shortly after Pelosi stepped onto Taiwan soil.

“There is no reason for this to erupt into conflict. There’s no change to our policy. This is absolutely consistent with it,” Kirby said.

Kirby played down the news that Chinese fighter jets crossed the Taiwan Strait toward the island shortly before Pelosi’s plane landed.

“The United States is not going to be intimidated by threats,” he said.

“We have serious security commitments in the region.. . We take those commitments seriously”, he added, saying Washington would ensure that Pelosi had a “safe and secure visit.”

Pelosi is currently on a tour of Asia and while neither she nor her office confirmed the Taipei visit, multiple US and Taiwanese media outlets reported it was on the cards — triggering days of anger from Beijing.

Moments before her arrival, Chinese state media announced advanced Su-35 fighter jets were crossing the Taiwan Strait. The brief report had no details on timing or precise location of the crossing.

“The US breach of faith on the Taiwan issue is despicable,” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in comments published on his ministry’s website earlier Tuesday that did not specifically mention Pelosi.

No need for ‘crisis’

China considers self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as its territory and has vowed to one day seize the island, by force if necessary.

It tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and opposes countries having official exchanges with Taipei.

Combination image shows US President Joe Biden in Washington, November 6, 2021, left, and China’s President Xi Jinping in Brasília, Brazil, November 13, 2019. (Alex Brandon, Eraldo Peres/AP)

In a call with US President Joe Biden last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the US against “playing with fire” on Taiwan.

While the Biden administration is understood to be opposed to a Taiwan stop, security council spokesman Kirby said Monday at the time that Pelosi was entitled to go where she pleased.

“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with longstanding US policies into some sort of crisis,” he told reporters.

The last House Speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.

Kirby cited intelligence that China was preparing possible military provocations. He said that while Washington did not fear a direct attack on Pelosi’s plane, it “raises the stakes of a miscalculation.”

Kirby reiterated, however, that US policy was unchanged toward Taiwan.

This means support for its self-ruling government, while diplomatically recognizing Beijing over Taipei and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.

Meanwhile, Moscow said it was “absolutely in solidarity with China,” calling the prospect of a Pelosi visit “pure provocation.”

China has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for the Kremlin by blasting Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.

All eyes on Taiwan

Pelosi left Kuala Lumpur Tuesday after meeting Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri and Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

So many people were tracking the US military plane ferrying her on FlightRadar that the website said some users experienced outages.

The plane took a circuitous route that studiously avoided the South China Sea — which Beijing claims — before heading up the east coast of the Philippines.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, meets with Malaysia Parliament speaker Azhar Azizan Harun at the parliament house in Kuala Lumpur, August 2, 2022. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

Press access around Pelosi has been tightly restricted so far and limited to a handful of short statements confirming meetings with officials.

Her itinerary includes stops in South Korea and Japan — but the prospect of a Taiwan trip had dominated attention.

Taipei’s government remained silent on whether she would visit, even as local media published reports showing her presence was all but guaranteed.

The capital’s famous Taipei 101 skyscraper was illuminated with the words “Speaker Pelosi… Thank You” on Tuesday night before her plane had arrived.

‘Seek to punish Taiwan’

Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but that threat has intensified under Xi, China’s most assertive ruler in a generation.

The island’s military on Tuesday said it was “determined” to defend it against increased threats by China over the potential Pelosi visit.

A resident walks by a man reading a newspaper reporting on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Asia visit, at a stand in Beijing, July 31, 2022. (Andy Wong/AP)

“The probability of war or a serious incident is low,” tweeted Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the US-based German Marshall Fund think tank.

“But the probability that… [China] will take a series of military, economic, and diplomatic actions to show strength & resolve is not insignificant,” she added.

“Likely it will seek to punish Taiwan in myriad ways.”

Taipei’s Council of Agriculture on Tuesday said China had suspended the import of some Taiwanese goods, including some fishery products, tea, and honey. The council said China cited regulatory breaches.

Pelosi’s potential visit has been preceded by a flurry of military activity across the region that highlights how combustible the issue of Taiwan is.

Last week, both Taiwan and China held live-fire drills.

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