Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her entourage, including five other members of Congress, arrived in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, in a blaze of lights and symbolism Tuesday night after a five-hour flight from Malaysia and immediately they went to their hotel for some rest.
If her arrival seemed like a triumph of defiance against threats from the mainland capital of Beijing, there was no universal applause among locals despite her claim that the visit was “part of our unwavering commitment” to Taiwan.
Nor were they all convinced that the visit shows “America’s solidarity with the 23 million people in Taiwan more closely than ever,” as she said in her arrival statement. After all, The Daily Beast reports that the White House tried to dissuade her from the trip.
Indeed, if Pelosi can count on Chinese-American support in her San Francisco congressional district, she would certainly have trouble picking up votes in Taiwan.
Her stay will only be brief – one night, then a full day of meetings with Taiwan’s top leaders and politicians before flying to her next stop, South Korea. “We’re going to make sure she has a safe and secure visit,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, told CNN shortly after her arrival. “There is no reason to escalate the tension.”
“The biggest sacrifice he can make for Taiwan is if he skips the visit.“
— Yang Chien-Hao
That said, the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan – carrying fighter jets – was en route to the Taiwan Straits at the same time along with destroyers and supply ships. Taiwan was “strengthening combat readiness,” according to the Central Taiwan News Agency.
Indeed, bowing to security, Pelosi never said before she took off for Singapore last weekend that she was going to Taiwan, and no one said when she left Malaysia that Taipei was her destination. There was no doubt, however, where she was going especially since her hotel had a wonderful welcome there in the lights.
Pelosi, in her arrival statement, and Kirby tried to convince the Chinese that her visit in no way contradicted America’s one China policy, as articulated in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter transferred recognition to Beijing.
“The United States stands with the people of Taiwan,” Pelosi said, and Kibbie argued that there was nothing “inconsistent at all: loving Taiwan while getting along with Beijing. Please, Kirby pleaded, “there’s no reason for China to overreact.”
These claims, however, were not likely to placate China or soothe hurt feelings, much less convince everyone in Taiwan that her visit would only bring good news as Beijing simply cannot stop issuing unpleasant statements.
With Pelosi now firmly in disputed Chinese territory, the ball is in China’s court to respond. There was no doubt that her visit would be filled with upbeat statements and expressions of friendship, but all the happy talk is not likely to convince many people in Taiwan that her presence is an unparalleled blessing.
Amid all the excitement, Pelosi’s stoppage in the island nation is drawing more jeers than cheers, more protests than praise and, what really hurts for any vote-happy politician, more shrugs than interest.
That’s the view as the world waits to see what Beijing will do to back up its threats of “consequences” as Pelosi and her entourage arrived under cover of darkness for what looked like wildly over-the-top hours in the island nation . It didn’t seem likely to go beyond the clichés about Taiwan’s heroic role as a staunch defender of democracy against big, bad, bullying China, but that wasn’t the point.
Just by setting foot in Taiwan, the first elected American official to visit the island since another House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, left in 1997, Pelosi made her point. Never mind that the Taiwanese would be the first in China’s line of fire if the Chinese decided to pursue their claim that Taiwan is truly part of China.
Nor did it seem to matter that Gingrich was, and is, a staunch Republican and Pelosi a die-hard Democrat. Like Newt, Nancy seemed to believe that she was advancing democratic values and American interests by leading her delegation to such a model of the “free world.” Many people, however, begged to differ.
As he arrived, a young Taiwanese man, Yang Chien-Hao, told the Daily Beast: “The biggest sacrifice he can make for Taiwan is if he skips the visit.”
Many of the island’s 23.5 million residents, Young said, “say it’s causing problems,” while many more “don’t really care about it.” They tended to part with it while obsessing over “domestic issues that are much bigger and attract more attention than Pelosi’s visit.”
However, it was difficult for people to escape the frenzy surrounding the visit after all the advance publicity, and China took its share of responsibility by making such a fuss about it.
“If a visit causes so much danger,” said one Taiwanese, “then the problem is with China, not her.” China, he said, “needs to listen and understand Taiwan more before trying to unite us”—that is, by threatening to drag Taiwan under Beijing’s control, as Chinese leaders have vowed to do since the victory of Mao’s Red Army on the mainland. in 1949.
If Pelosi wasn’t expected to wade through the usual platitudes when she meets Taiwan’s top leaders, including President Tsai Ing-wen, on Wednesday, lawmakers were polite. The ruling political party’s Lu Chich-cheng was quoted by Taiwan’s Central News Agency as calling her visit “a litmus test for the Taiwan-US alliance.” Lawmaker Wang Ting-yu said her visit would show the alliance can “withstand the pressure from China,” which he called a “troublemaker.”
In fact, according to the “one China” policy of recognizing only Beijing as the capital of all China, including the province of Taiwan, the US and Taiwan are not committed to any alliance. The U.S. has only a “mission” on the island instead of an embassy in Taipei, no U.S. military is stationed in Taiwan, and U.S. and Taiwanese forces do not participate in military exercises.
But their remarks underscored the bond Taiwan’s leaders would like to maintain with the US in the face of threats from Beijing. After all, didn’t President Biden reaffirm his “commitment” to Taiwan’s defense when he visited Tokyo and Seoul in May — and doesn’t Taiwan import hundreds of millions of dollars worth of American weapons every year?
As Pelosi’s plane touched down on the island, everyone waited with bated breath to see what Chinese President Xi Jinping had in mind when he warned President Biden in a phone call not to “play with fire.”
Taiwanese officials were polite but otherwise tight-lipped about the Pelosi fallout. “The department remained low-key about Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan,” was the most diplomatic spokesman Jimmy Lin told The Daily Beast. There was, he said, “no additional information or comment on reports that he will arrive Tuesday night.”
Beijing had much more to say, most of it threatening but carefully unspecific. Possible scenarios included launching missiles into the sea, sending planes over Taiwan, not just in the air defense reconnaissance zone, blockading ports – pretty much anything short of waging war on Taiwan, which is really not expected.
Then again, there was also the possibility that Beijing would do nothing immediately beyond coming out with flowery rhetoric. Beijing could also punish Taiwan by cutting off exports of critical goods, and it could also punish the US by playing games with trade and investment.
On the streets of Taipei, the prevailing response was, what else is new? “We’ve been hearing this for years,” one Taiwanese man told The Daily Beast. “We’re used to it.”