Taiwan struck a defiant tone yesterday as it hosted US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with a furious China gearing up for military exercises dangerously close to the island’s shores in retaliation for the visit.
Pelosi landed in Taiwan late Tuesday despite a series of increasingly stark threats from Beijing, which views the island as its territory and warned it would consider the visit a major provocation.
China responded swiftly, announcing what it said were “necessary and just” military drills in the seas just off Taiwan’s coast — some of the world’s busiest waterways.
“In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, the US are the provocateurs, China is the victim,” Beijing’s foreign ministry said.
But Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the island of 23mn would not be cowed.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down. We will...continue to hold the line of defence for democracy,” Tsai said at an event with Pelosi in Taipei.
She also thanked the 82-year-old US lawmaker for “taking concrete actions to show your staunch support for Taiwan at this critical moment”.
China tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and opposes countries having official exchanges with Taipei.
Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. “Today, our delegation... came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan,” she said at the event with Tsai.
She added her group had come “in peace to the region”.
Before leaving Taiwan, Pelosi also met with several dissidents who have previously been in the crosshairs of China’s wrath – including Tiananmen protest student leader Wu’er Kaixi. “We are in high agreement that Taiwan is in the frontline (of democracy),” Wu’er said. “Both the US and Taiwan governments need to...conduct more in defending human rights.”
Pelosi’s delegation left Taiwan yesterday evening en route to South Korea, her next stop in an Asia tour that has included stops in Singapore and Malaysia.
She will wrap up her trip in Japan.
After her departure, Taiwan’s defence ministry announced late yesterday that 27 Chinese warplanes had entered the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
Over the last two years, Beijing has ramped up military incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ – which is not the same as the island’s territorial airspace, but includes a far greater area. The ministry published a map that showed 16 Su-30s and 6 J-11s had crossed the so-called “median line” of the Taiwan Strait – an unofficial boundary in the narrow waterway, which separates the island from the mainland and straddles vital shipping lanes.
Chinese jets also crossed over the so-called “median line” during two high-level visits by US officials in 2020 during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Nevertheless, that is still a relatively rare occurrence.
President Joe Biden’s administration said in the run-up to Pelosi’s visit that US policy towards Taiwan remained unchanged.
This means support for its government while diplomatically recognising Beijing over Taipei, and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.
Beijing summoned US ambassador Nicholas Burns over Pelosi’s visit, while the Chinese military declared it was on “high alert” and would “launch a series of targeted military actions in response” to the visit.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi waves with other members of the delegation as they board a plane before leaving Taipei Songshan Airport, in Taipei, Taiwan, yesterday.