Beijing had warned of Pelosi’s visit for weeks, issuing threats that raised fears of a new crisis in the region between the world’s two biggest economies. As soon as it fell on Tuesday, Chinese officials unleashed a barrage of angry statements and announced plans for military exercises to begin immediately.
On Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman slammed Pelosi’s visit as a “political farce.”
“It is Pelosi who is commendable, but bilateral relations and regional peace and stability will suffer,” Hua Chunying said.
Some of the additional military exercises planned for later this week will take place in Taiwan’s maritime and air territory, a move the island republic denounced as a serious violation that amounted to land and naval blockades.
Both Pelosi and Tsai said they were committed to maintaining the status quo, under which the United States recognizes Beijing as China’s sole legitimate government but maintains informal relations with Taiwan.
“We want Taiwan to always have freedom in safety, and we’re not backing down from that,” Pelosi said.
Tsai thanked the US delegation for visiting “under such difficult circumstances”, calling the Chinese military drills “unnecessary”.
China views Pelosi’s visit as highly provocative because of her status as a high-ranking official. While US lawmakers and other current and former government officials regularly visit Taiwan, Pelosi is the first House speaker to visit the island since Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Pelosi said that while China has blocked Taiwan from participating in international organizations and meetings, “they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan.” Cheers erupted outside Taipei Songshan International Airport as Pelosi’s military plane arrived on Tuesday. Lights on Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building, displayed messages of welcome and gratitude for the speaker’s visit.
More supporters met Pelosi outside her hotel, along with pro-Beijing protesters holding signs demanding she leave.
“The good thing is that I think this will inform the world about the existence of Taiwan as a democratic country,” Xu Hao-jun, a 45-year-old software designer in Taipei, told NBC News on Wednesday. “The bad point? I think China will not be friendly, but that doesn’t mean that just because Pelosi won’t come to Taiwan it will be any less.”
Pelosi began Wednesday with a speech to Taiwan’s parliament, praising the island as “one of the freest societies in the world.”
At a ceremony later, Tsai presented Pelosi with a political order of the highest order, calling her “one of Taiwan’s most devoted friends.”
In the afternoon, Pelosi – a longtime critic of China’s ruling Communist Party and its human rights record – met privately with three Chinese dissidents, local media reported. The delegation then boarded a plane for South Korea, the fourth stop on a longer tour of Asia that also includes Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.
Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and sees “reunification” as inevitable, by force if necessary. Taiwan’s government rejects Beijing’s claim of sovereignty and says the island’s future should be decided by its 23 million people.
In a statement On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the United States of stirring up the dispute and encouraging Taiwan’s independence supporters.
“Efforts to use the Taiwan issue to contain China are doomed to failure,” he said.
The White House says Pelosi’s visit is consistent with long-standing US policy on Taiwan, which has not changed, and there is no reason to cause conflict.
The United States “will not seek and does not want a crisis. We are prepared to manage what Beijing chooses to do,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.