House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei on Tuesday, arriving forTo her which has become a flashpoint amid rising tensions between the US and China.
Pelosi and other members of Congress stepped off a US military jet that crashed Tuesday night in Taipei, where they were greeted by a group of Taiwanese officials on the tarmac. The plane traveled from Kuala Lumpur on a flight path that avoided the South China Sea and mainland China, according to the tracking website FlightAware.
Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan was shrouded in secrecy and angered Beijing, which raised the prospect of a military response to the visit. The White House said it had no control over Pelosi’s decision to visit the island and insisted there was no change in US policy toward Taiwan and the Chinese government.
As the second in line for the presidency, Pelosi is the highest-ranking US official to visit the island in 25 years. The history of the California Democrat’s push against Beijing dates back to 1991, when she displayed a pro-democracy banner in Tiananmen Square in defiance of Chinese officials.
In a statement shortly after the plane landed, Pelosi said her visit was to honor “America’s unwavering commitment to support the vibrant Republic of Taiwan.”
“Our discussions with Taiwan’s leadership will focus on reaffirming our support for our partner and advancing our common interests, including promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he said. “America’s solidarity with Taiwan’s 23 million people is more important today than ever as the world faces a choice between authoritarianism and democracy.”
The speaker stressed that the visit “in no way contradicts the United States’ longstanding policy” toward Taiwan and China, and said the U.S. “continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo.”
A Taiwanese government official said Pelosi is expected to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen and members of the legislature in Taipei. He is not expected to see the city’s mayor, Ko Wen-je, who is chairman of the pro-Chinese Taiwan People’s Party, and is expected to meet only with members of the DPP or Democratic Progressive Party. The US delegation is expected to stay Tuesday night in the capital and hold meetings throughout the day Wednesday before departing.
The Taipei 101 skyscraper, the island’s iconic tallest building, sent messages welcoming Pelosi to the capital ahead of her arrival on Tuesday night.
Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan part of China, and Chinese officials have warned they would view Pelosi’s visit as a major challenge.
During a two-hour phone call with President Biden last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked Pelosi to cancel the trip. Earlier in July,US military officials felt it was “not a good idea” for Pelosi to visit Taiwan at this time.
According Reuters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday that his military “will not sit idly by” if Pelosi visits. During a daily briefing, Lijan said a visit by “No. 3 US government official” would “lead to a terrifying political fallout.”
On Monday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby confirmed that Pelosi was traveling on a US military aircraft and said she had been briefed on Taiwan.
“There were direct conversations with the speaker and her staff before she left at various levels in the national security establishment,” Kirby said, though he would not confirm her plans to travel to Taiwan. “The president did not speak directly to the speaker about this trip.”
Kirby said “the speaker makes her own decisions” when asked if the military still thought it was not a good idea to leave. “What we did was give her the context, the analysis, the facts, the information so she can make the best possible decision for each stop for each trip abroad,” Kirby added.
However, Kirby warned of China’s “rattling of sabers,” including military provocations such as possible missile launches across the Taiwan Strait and large-scale aerial entry into Taiwan’s airspace. He also cited diplomatic escalations, such as Beijing’s public assertion last week that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway.
“Some of these actions will continue along trend lines that we’ve seen in recent years, but some could be of a different scope and scale,” Kirby said. “The last time Beijing fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait was in 1995 and 1996 after Beijing reacted defiantly to a visit by Taiwan’s president to deliver a speech at his alma mater.”
The split between Taiwan and the mainland government began in 1949, when Chinese nationalists fled to the island amid a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party. The Taiwanese government considers itself the legitimate government of China. Beijing sees the island as a rogue breakaway state and part of its own territory.
The US recognized Beijing as the legitimate Chinese government in 1979 and does not support Taiwan independence, but has maintained informal ties with the government, following a policy of “strategic ambiguity”. A 2018 law known as the Taiwan Travel Act made the US-Taiwan relationship official, but below the level of formal diplomatic ties.
Pelosi is not the first speaker of the House to visit Taiwan. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, visited in 1997. Other US officials have made low-profile visits to Taiwan to show support for the island, but Pelosi’s visit has garnered far more attention.
Ramy Inocencio, Nancy Cordes, Kathryn Krupnick and Rebecca Kaplan contributed to the report.