House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan with five of her Democratic colleagues, making her the first House leader to visit the island since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich traveled there in 1997.
The US Air Force aircraft – a modified Boeing 737 known as a C-40B – carrying Ms Pelosi and her colleagues landed at Taipei’s Songshan Airport at 10.45pm local time on Tuesday, after a flight of around seven hours from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The military aircraft followed a circular route around the east coast of the Philippines and approached Taiwan from the east to avoid the South China Sea.
The House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan, which is governed independently but claimed by the Chinese government as part of its own territory, comes amid tensions between Washington and Beijing over US support for the island.
Ms. Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which was not on her public schedule and was not confirmed by her office before she left the U.S. last weekend, occupied a significant portion of last week’s phone call between President Joe Biden and the Chinese counterpart of, Xi Jinping. According to a readout of the conversation released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Xi warned Biden that a visit to the island by Ms. Pelosi, who is second in line for the presidency, would be “a game[ing] with fire”.
On Monday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said China had responded to the possibility of Ms Pelosi’s visit, which was not publicly announced before her departure from the US at the weekend, by stepping up military activity near the island.
Mr Kirby said Chinese forces appeared to be “positioning themselves” for “further steps in the coming days”, including “military provocations such as launching missiles into the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan” or “operations that violate historical norms ». “Large-scale air entry into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone”.
But Mr Kirby also stressed that longstanding US policy towards the island had not changed. He said Chinese leaders should have enough familiarity with the US government to understand that Ms Pelosi’s travel plans are not under the control of the executive branch.
“The President has the right to visit Taiwan and a Speaker of the House has visited Taiwan in the past without incident, as have many members of Congress including this year,” he said. “Nothing has changed about our ‘one China policy’, which is, of course, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three US-PRC joint communiqués. [and] the six assurances”.
He later added that the US continues to oppose “unilateral changes to the status quo on either side.”