TAIPEI, Taiwan — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, brushing aside private warnings from the Biden administration that her high-profile diplomatic visit could spark a new crisis in Asia and immediately a sharp response from the Chinese government.
A United States military plane carrying Ms. Pelosi landed in Taipei late last night after weeks of speculation about her travel plans. Her decision to go ahead with the trip – shrouded in official secrecy until the last minute – makes her the highest-ranking congressional official to visit the disputed island in a quarter of a century and sets up a tense standoff with China that US officials have said could lead to a more aggressive military posture.
“America’s solidarity with Taiwan’s 23 million people is more important today than ever before as the world faces a choice between empire and democracy,” she said in a statement as she was welcomed by Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister. adding that the visit does not contradict the United States’ Taiwan policy.
China, which opposes any questioning of its claims to self-ruled Taiwan, had repeatedly warned Ms Pelosi against the visit. Soon after her arrival, Beijing announced plans for live-fire military exercises, some in areas that overlap with the island’s territorial waters. In a separate statement, China’s People’s Liberation Army said it would begin a series of joint naval and air exercises that would include “long-range firing in the Taiwan Strait.”
The drills would effectively block access temporarily to some of Taiwan’s commercial shipping lanes and ports, but analysts said they appeared designed to project power rather than serve as a precursor to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
“They’re not signaling that we’re about to go to war,” said Joe McReynolds, senior China analyst at the Washington-based Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. But he and others said the fast-moving situation could lead to a chance encounter that could get out of hand.
Before the visit, the United States had urged Beijing not to turn the moment into a crisis. After a phone call last week between President Biden and Xi Jinping, the president of China, China’s foreign ministry condemned Ms. Pelosi’s expected visit, saying “the fire game will burn itself out.”
But Ms. Pelosi, a longtime critic of China who visited Tiananmen Square two years after the Chinese military opened fire on student protesters there, was defiant. In her statement, she said her visit to the island 80 miles off China’s coast was a sign of America’s “unwavering commitment” to support Taiwan’s democracy.
“We must stand with Taiwan, which is an island of resilience,” Ms. Pelosi said in an opinion piece published on the Washington Post website after the landing. In the article, he called Taiwan “a leader in governance,” “a leader in peace, security and economic dynamism” and a “vibrant, strong democracy.”
In Taiwan’s central business district, Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building and a major landmark on the city’s skyline, was lit up with messages welcoming Ms. Pelosi, the highest-ranking American official to visit the island since 1997, when Newt Gingrich , then the president of the Parliament, paid a visit.
Ms. Pelosi’s refusal to be dissuaded from making the trip is consistent with her decades-long efforts to hold China accountable for its actions. He has repeatedly pushed for legislation to benefit Hong Kong and Tibet. hosted the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. and urged a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
Her strong stance Tuesday was echoed in a rare statement of bipartisan support issued moments after her arrival: More than two dozen Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, wrote that her trip was “consistent with that of the United States. The policy of China to which we are committed.”
“He is a high-ranking official of the US government. But it’s not unusual,” said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I was there three months ago with five other senators. We have a long history of visiting Taiwan. And so we can’t let the Chinese say who can and can’t visit Taiwan.”
But the speaker’s arrival was greeted with disdain by Chinese officials, who accused Ms Pelosi of undermining China’s sovereignty. And her visit comes as China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has made it clearer than any of his predecessors that he views Taiwan’s unification with China as a primary goal of his administration.
Mr Xi, who has led China since 2012, is expected to be confirmed for an unprecedented third term as leader at a Communist Party congress in the autumn. Ahead of this all-important political meeting, Mr. Xi was keen to project an image of strength at home and abroad, particularly on the Taiwan issue.
A statement issued by the Chinese Communist Party’s Taiwan Affairs Office said any attempt by Taiwan to seek independence would be “destroyed by the strong power of the Chinese people.”
A thorny issue in an increasingly fraught US-China relationship, Taiwan – which has its own military and democratically elected government – has emerged as the front line in a geopolitical showdown for influence and power in Asia.
Under Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, Beijing has taken more aggressive military action in the region and recently asserted its claim to the strait that separates Taiwan from China, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Mr. Xi has called for unification with Taiwan as part of China’s national revitalization, even by force.
The United States has sent a steady stream of senior officials to show solidarity with Taiwan. Recently, Mr. Biden said he would act to defend Taiwan in the event of a conflict. It was not the first time he had done so, but White House officials have repeatedly walked back those statements, saying a longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan’s defense remains in place.
Publicly, senior White House officials said Ms. Pelosi’s visit did not signal any change in official policy and should be viewed by China as different from any other recent visit by members of Congress to Taiwan.
But privately, administration officials made it clear to Ms. Pelosi that her decision to visit Taiwan seemed likely to provoke China at a time when tensions between the two nations are high and the United States has already pledged to help Ukraine fight the war with Russia.
Ms. Pelosi’s visit was embarrassing for Mr. Biden. The speaker and her staff insisted that, as the leader of a separate but equal branch of the US government, she has the right to go where she wants. And aides to Mr. Biden stressed that he did not want to be seen as dictating where she can travel.
Officials said Mr. Biden never told Ms. Pelosi not to go. But officials have made it clear that her trip could significantly escalate tensions, including the possibility that China could use the visit to justify military action against Taiwan.
As the plane carrying Ms. Pelosi approached Taiwan, several Chinese state media reported that Chinese Su-35 fighter jets were crossing the strait, a claim that Taiwan’s defense ministry called “fake news.” China last sent planes over the median line that crosses the strait in 2020, when Alex Azar, then the US secretary of health and human services, visited Taiwan.
China claims Taiwan as its territory and has vowed to take it back, by force if necessary. In his call with Mr. Biden on Thursday, China’s leader warned the United States not to intervene in the dispute.
China’s incursions into the airspace and waters near Taiwan have become more aggressive in recent years, increasing the risk of conflict.
In June, Beijing raised the stakes when the foreign ministry said China had jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait and could not be considered international waterway. And over the past year, Chinese military planes have increasingly probed the airspace near Taiwan, prompting Taiwanese fighter jets to engage.
Huang Chao-yuan, a 53-year-old business owner, staked out the area near Songshan Airport to watch Ms. Pelosi’s plane land. He said the speaker’s visit was a “historic moment” that “proves Taiwan’s independence.”
But outside the Grand Hyatt Taipei, where Ms. Pelosi was expected to spend the night, several dozen supporters of unification with China protested Ms. Pelosi’s visit: Some chanted to “get out of Taiwan” and some held banners that they reported her. .
In Beijing, it is seen as hostile to the regime and its goals.
A two-term congresswoman from California, Ms. Pelosi visited Beijing in 1991, two years after Chinese troops opened fire on student protesters around Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds if not thousands. Accompanied to the square by several Congress colleagues and a small group of reporters, Ms. Pelosi unfurled a banner at the memorial service for the dead students.
Ms. Pelosi is a staunch supporter of the Dalai Lama and the rights of Tibetans. In 2015, with official permission from the Chinese government, he visited Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, on a strictly controlled trip. The area is usually off limits to foreign officials and journalists.
From student protesters in Beijing in 1989 to anti-government protests in Hong Kong 30 years later, Ms. Pelosi has consistently supported social movements which criticized the ruling Communist Party of China. He also urged China’s leaders to tone down their authoritarian policies, a criticism that has drawn a flurry of reactions from Chinese officials.
The Chinese community in San Francisco, which Ms. Pelosi represents, was outwardly very supportive of Taiwan from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Today, it is much more connected to the mainland, in part because of immigration trends and of increasing China’s power and influence in the world, Mr Li said.
Dozens of people gathered in San Francisco on Monday to protest the trip, arguing it could spark a possible war with China. The demonstration was attended by members of the city’s Chinese American community. Code Pink: Women for Peace, an anti-war group. and the US-China Peoples’ Friendship Association.
Paul Mozur and Amy Chang Chien reported from Taipei and Michael D. Shear from Washington. The report was made by Emily Cochran and Amy Chin from washington, Thomas Fuller from San Francisco, Jane Perlage and Mike Ives from Seoul and John Lew from Taipei. Claire Fu contributed to the research.