Taipei, Taiwan — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left Taiwan after a visit that heightened tensions with China, saying Wednesday that she and other members of Congress in her delegation showed they will not abandon their commitment to the self-governing island.
Pelosi, the first U.S. speaker to visit the island in more than 25 years, courted Beijing’s wrath with the visit and set off more than a week of debate, after news of it leaked, over whether it was a good idea.
In Taipei, she remained calm but defiant.
“Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,” she said in a short speech during a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. “America’s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad.”
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments, announced multiple military exercises around the island, parts of which will enter Taiwanese waters, and issued a series of harsh statements after the delegation touched down Tuesday night in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
Beijing depicted the drills as “necessary and just,” Agence France-Press reported. Beijing’s foreign ministry said, “In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, the United States are the provocateurs, China is the victim.”
Taiwan decried the planned actions, saying they violated the island’s sovereignty.
“Such an act equals to sealing off Taiwan by air and sea, such an act covers our country’s territory and territorial waters, and severely violates our country’s territorial sovereignty,” Capt. Jian-chang Yu said at a briefing by the National Defense Ministry.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks next to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Sandra Oudkirk during a meeting at the presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan on August 3, 2022.
TAIWAN PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE via Reuters
The four days of Chinese military exercises, including live fire, are to start Thursday and would be the largest aimed at Taiwan since 1995, when China fired missiles in a large-scale exercise to show its displeasure at a visit by then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to the U.S.
Taiwanese President Tsai responded firmly Wednesday to Beijing’s military intimidation.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said at her meeting with Pelosi. “We will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy.”
When China’s official Xinhua News Agency announced the military actions Tuesday night, it published a map outlining six different areas around Taiwan. Arthur Zhin-Sheng Wang, a defense studies expert at Taiwan’s Central Police University, said three of the areas infringe on Taiwanese waters, meaning they are within 12 nautical miles of shore.
Using live fire in a country’s territorial airspace or waters is risky, said Wang, adding that “according to international rules of engagement, this can possibly be seen as an act of war.”
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The Reuters news agency reports Pelosi’s Taiwan visit was denounced on social media in China. One blogger seethed, saying, “This old she-devil, she actually dares to come!”
Reuters also reported that the Kremlin said Wednesday the amount of ratcheting up of tensions the Pelosi stop set off “should not be underestimated” and was a “provocation.”
Pelosi’s trip has heightened U.S.-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress because of her high-level position as leader of the House of Representatives. She is the first House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, since Newt Gingrich in 1997. However, other members of Congress have visited Taiwan in the past year.
Tsai, thanking Pelosi for her decades of support for Taiwan, presented the speaker with a civilian honor, the Order of the Propitious Clouds.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, Nicholas Burns, to convey the country’s protests.
On Wednesday, China banned some imports from Taiwan, including citrus fruit and fish.
Pelosi addressed Beijing’s threats Wednesday morning, saying she hopes it’s clear that while China has prevented Taiwan from attending certain international meetings, “that they understand they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan as a show of friendship and of support.”
She noted that support for Taiwan is bipartisan in Congress and praised the island’s democracy. She stopped short of saying the U.S would defend Taiwan militarily, emphasizing that Congress is “committed to the security of Taiwan, in order to have Taiwan be able to most effectively defend themselves.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu before boarding a plane at Taipei Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 3, 2022.
Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via Reuters
Her focus has always been the same, she said, going back to her 1991 visit to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when she and other lawmakers unfurled a small banner supporting democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters at the square. That visit was also about human rights and what she called dangerous technology transfers to “rogue countries.”
Pelosi visited a human rights museum in Taipei that details the history of the island’s martial law era and met with some of Taiwan’s most prominent rights activists, including an exiled former Hong Kong bookseller who was detained by Chinese authorities, Lam Wing-kee.
Pelosi, who is leading the trip with five other members of Congress, also met with representatives from Taiwan’s legislature.
“Madam Speaker’s visit to Taiwan with the delegation, without fear, is the strongest defense of upholding human rights and consolidation of the values of democracy and freedom,” Tsai Chi-chang, vice president of Taiwan’s legislature, said in welcome.
The Biden administration has sought to tone down the volume on the visit, insisting there’s no change in America’s longstanding “one-China policy,” which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.
Pelosi said her delegation has “heft,” including Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Raja Krishnamoorthi from the House Intelligence Committee. Reps. Andy Kim and Mark Takano are also in the delegation.
She also mentioned Rep. Suzan DelBene, whom Pelosi said was instrumental in the passage of a $280 billion bill aimed at boosting American manufacturing and research in semiconductor chips — an industry that Taiwan dominates and is vital for modern electronics.