U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday night despite Beijing’s threats of dire consequences, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the Chinese-claimed self-governing island in 25 years.
Pelosi’s visit sparked heightened tension between China and the United States. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, to be annexed by force if necessary, and views visits by foreign government officials as recognition of the island’s sovereignty.
China had warned of “resolute and strong measures” if Pelosi continued on his journey, but gave no details of what they might be. Speculation has centered on threatening military exercises and possible incursions by Chinese planes and ships into areas under Taiwanese control.
The Biden administration did not explicitly urge Pelosi to cancel the visit, while seeking to assure Beijing that it would not signal any change in US policy on Taiwan.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington’s betrayal “on the Taiwan issue is ruining its national credibility”.
“Some American politicians are playing with fire on the Taiwan issue,” Wang said in a statement. “It certainly won’t have a good outcome…the exposure of America’s intimidating face shows it again as the world’s greatest peace saboteur.”
Pelosi said in a statement shortly after arriving that the US delegation’s visit “honours America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy.”
“Our visit is one of many congressional delegations to Taiwan – and that in no way contradicts long-standing US policy,” she said.
See also: Pelosi says US must ‘stand with’ Taiwan, calls it ‘under threat’ from China
The plane carrying Pelosi and his delegation left Malaysia earlier on Tuesday after a brief stopover that included a working lunch with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry had declined to say whether Pelosi would surrender. The trip was not officially announced in advance.
Barricades were erected outside the Grand Hyatt hotel in Taipei where Pelosi was to stay amid tight security. Two buildings in the capital lit up LED screens with words of welcome, including the iconic Taipei 101 building, which read “Welcome to Taiwan, President Pelosi”.
China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary, has repeatedly warned against retaliation for Pelosi’s visit, saying its military “will never stand idly by”.
“The United States and Taiwan agreed to make provocations first, and China was only forced to act out of self-defense,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters on Tuesday. Hua Chunying in Beijing.
Hua said China was in constant communication with the United States and made clear “how dangerous it would be if the visit took place.” Any countermeasures taken by China will be “justified and necessary” in the face of Washington’s “unscrupulous behavior”, she said.
Shortly before Pelosi’s scheduled arrival, Chinese state media said Chinese Su-35 fighter jets were “crossing” the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates mainland China and Taiwan. It was not immediately clear where they were heading or what they planned to do.
Unspecified hackers launched a cyberattack on the Taiwanese presidential office website, rendering it temporarily unavailable on Tuesday evening. The presidential office said the website was restored soon after the attack, overwhelming it with traffic.
“China believes that by launching a multi-pronged pressure campaign against Taiwan, the Taiwanese people will be intimidated. But they are wrong,” Wang Ting-yu, a Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker, said on Twitter in response to the attack.
China’s military threats have raised fears of a new crisis in the 100-mile (140 kilometer) wide Taiwan Strait that could upend global markets and supply chains.
The White House on Monday denounced Beijing’s rhetoric, saying the United States had no interest in deepening tensions with China and “will not take the bait or indulge in swordplay.”
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stressed that the decision to travel to Taiwan ultimately rests with Pelosi. He noted that members of Congress have regularly visited the island over the years.
Kirby said administration officials are concerned that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory measures, including military actions such as firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, or aerial sorties in the island’s airspace and large-scale naval operations. exercises in the strait.
“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit in line with long-standing US policy into some kind of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.
US officials said the US military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region during Pelosi’s visit. The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were in the Philippine Sea on Monday, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the military operations.
The Reagan, the cruiser USS Antietam and the destroyer USS Higgins left Singapore after a port call and moved north to their home port in Japan. The carrier has a range of aircraft, including F/A-18 fighter jets and helicopters, as well as sophisticated radar systems and other weapons.
Taiwan and China separated in 1949 after the communists won a civil war on the mainland. The United States maintains informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan even though it recognizes Beijing as the government of China.
Beijing sees official US contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step US leaders say they do not support.
Pelosi, head of one of the three branches of the US government, is the highest elected US official to visit Taiwan since President Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Flight tracking site Flightradar24 said Pelosi’s plane, a US Air Force Boeing C-40C, was the most watched in the world on Tuesday night with 300,000 viewers. The plane took a circuitous route, flying east over Indonesia rather than directly over the South China Sea.
See also: Nancy Pelosi’s plane to Taiwan was the most watched flight in the world
Pelosi used his position in the US Congress as America’s envoy on the world stage. She has long challenged China on human rights, including in 2009 when she hand-delivered a letter to then-President Hu Jintao calling for the release of political prisoners. She had sought to visit Taiwan’s island democracy earlier this year before testing positive for COVID-19.
Pelosi is due to travel to Japan and South Korea later this week.