Pelosi’s visit has enraged China, which for years has sought to diplomatically isolate the island and views such exchanges with high-level foreign dignitaries as support for Taiwanese independence. The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that is home to 23 million people, as its territory despite never having ruled it. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has pledged to “reunify” Taiwan with China by force if necessary.
Just after Pelosi’s arrival, China’s official Xinhua News Agency released an announcement from the People’s Liberation Army that “important military training operations” and live ammunition drills would take place in six areas surrounding Taiwan between Thursday and Sunday — after the House speaker’s visit.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the visit as “a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. joint communiqués,” adding, “China firmly opposes and sternly condemns this, and has made serious démarche and strong protest to the United States.”
Pelosi, in a statement issued moments after her arrival, said, “Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy.” She defended her trip.
“Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan — and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. The United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo.”
And in an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Pelosi wrote, “We take this trip at a time when the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy. As Russia wages its premeditated, illegal war against Ukraine, killing thousands of innocents — even children — it is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats.”
At a White House briefing Tuesday, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby was pressed about President Biden’s view of the trip. “He respects the Speaker’s decision to travel to Taiwan,” Kirby said.
In a statement, AIT said she would be leading a congressional visit in Taiwan through Wednesday focusing on U.S.-Taiwan relations, security, trade, the covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, human rights and other issues of “mutual interest.”
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported that the island’s military forces reinforced their preparations Tuesday morning and would remain at a “strengthened” state of readiness through midday Thursday.
Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper, was lit up with a welcome message for Pelosi in English and Chinese. At Songshan Airport, a small group of supporters waited to greet her.
“I’m very happy that Speaker Pelosi came to show her support,” said Liu Yueh-hsia, 72, holding a banner that read, “Speaker Pelosi, welcome to the Republic of Taiwan.”
Liu, who has been advocating for Taiwan’s formal independence for decades, added, “We have nothing to do with China. We don’t want to be unified with them.”
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the military is closely monitoring all airspace and naval activity to ensure the island’s security with “determination, capability and confidence.”
Chinese maritime authorities, meanwhile, announced additional military exercises in the South China Sea and live-fire drills in the Bohai Sea, near the Korean Peninsula, this week. Reuters, citing an unnamed source, reported that Chinese fighter jets on Tuesday flew close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the unofficial military boundary. Chinese carrier Xiamen Airlines, meanwhile, announced disruptions to at least 30 flights because of air traffic restrictions in Fujian, the Chinese province directly across the strait from Taiwan.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, accused the United States on Tuesday of escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait and warned of “disastrous consequences” if the United States mishandles the situation. “The United States should and must take full responsibility for this,” she said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Tuesday at a meeting in Shanghai that U.S. politicians who are “playing with fire” on the issue of Taiwan will “come to no good end,” according to a transcript released by the Foreign Ministry.
Earlier, the White House, without confirming Pelosi’s trip, warned Beijing not to use it as a pretext for escalation and criticized China for overreacting to a visit that has precedent. Pelosi would be the first House speaker to travel to Taiwan since Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1997.
“China appears to be positioning itself to take further steps in the coming days and perhaps over longer time horizons,” Kirby told reporters Monday. He added: “Nothing about this potential visit — which, oh, by the way, has precedent — would change the status quo.”
Despite its fears that Pelosi’s trip could trigger a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, the White House has sought to avoid any impression that the president is pressuring Pelosi. And Kirby emphasized that if she did visit the island, that did not reflect any change in the U.S. approach to China or Taiwan.
“Nothing has changed — nothing has changed — about our Taiwan policy,” Kirby said. As for Beijing, he added, “What we would hope they infer from everything we’ve done, and everything we’ve said, including during the president’s phone call, is that we’re being consistent.”
But Pelosi’s visit takes on new significance at a time when U.S.-China ties have reached new lows and Taiwan’s diplomatic profile has risen in recent years.
“Pelosi’s visit now has a very different meaning,” said Chu Shulong, professor of political science and international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, comparing Pelosi’s trip to Gingrich’s visit. “China is wary that if the trip takes place, it will further strengthen U.S.-Taiwan relations and encourage U.S. allies to strengthen ties with Taiwan.”
The high-stakes situation poses a test for Xi, who faces a balancing act in responding forcefully but in a way that does not trigger an all-out conflict as he prepares for a crucial leadership meeting in the fall.
“Xi must show resolve. He has to shore up Chinese red lines and prevent further drift toward an unacceptable outcome: U.S. support for Taiwan independence,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund.
Kirby warned that China may fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait or near Taiwan or send military jets across the median line. In the last Taiwan Strait crisis in 1995-1996, China fired missiles that landed near Taiwan.
Other likely retaliatory measures include more frequent and larger-scale military exercises closer to Taiwan, as well as ramping up gray-zone tactics — coercive actions that stop short of outright conflict. China banned food shipments on Monday from more than 100 Taiwanese exporters.
Chinese leaders may also be constrained by the country’s slowing economy, deteriorating relations with the United States and other Western countries, and international criticism over China’s ties with Russia after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We need to keep in mind that Beijing does not want a military conflict to break out with the U.S. Therefore, it will likely refrain from a response that could lead to an unintended military escalation,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group.
Pelosi began her trip to Asia on Sunday and did not include Taiwan on her official itinerary. Beijing has repeatedly warned that it would retaliate against what it sees as interference in an internal matter.
Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing Tuesday that the ministry had no information about Pelosi’s visit but that the House speaker would be welcome.
“Our government always welcomes the international friends to visit Taiwan, enhance their understanding of Taiwan and demonstrate their support,” she said.
Regardless of the growing tensions over Pelosi’s expected visit, some say Taiwan has benefited from the attention.
“Taiwan will be the biggest winner. When did Taiwan become a major focus of U.S. politics and midterm elections?” said Fan Shih-ping, professor at the Graduate Institute of Political Science at the National Taiwan Normal University. “The Taiwan issue has become completely internationalized, which is the last thing China and Xi Jinping want to see.”
The 82-year-old Pelosi, who has served in Congress since 1987, has been a longtime critic of China’s human rights record and has spoken out in support of demonstrations in Hong Kong against Beijing’s crackdown on the city.
“She knows what had happened in Hong Kong, and she knows that many Hong Kong protesters who are fleeing from the Communist Party will come to Taiwan,” said Lam Wing-Kee, a former Hong Kong bookseller who was detained in China and is now living in Taipei.
Lam said he was invited to attend an event Wednesday with the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. Embassy, but was not told whether Pelosi would be there. “This would be a show of support to the resistance of the Hong Kong people,” he said of the speaker’s looming visit.
Traveling with Pelosi, according to the AIT statement, were House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), and Andy Kim (D-N.J.).
Senate Republicans, who often criticize Pelosi on domestic issues, commended her for the visit — one that several of them have made in recent years.
“For decades, members of the United States Congress, including previous Speakers of the House, have travelled to Taiwan. This travel is consistent with the United States’ One China policy to which we are committed. We are also committed now, more than ever, to all elements of the Taiwan Relations Act,” 26 Republicans wrote in a statement.
In Taipei, demonstrators gathered outside of what they believe will be her hotel. Others, meanwhile, planned to welcome the House speaker by giving out free fried chicken, a popular Taiwanese street snack.
“Even facing threats from the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], Pelosi still shows her strong will to safeguard the universal values of democracy and human rights, which I highly appreciate and admire,” said Jerry Liu, director of international affairs for the New Power Party.
“Tonight we call it fried chicken of democracy,” he said of his plan to hand out 100 portions. “By enjoying it, we are standing out to fight against the threats of the CCP.”
Vic Chiang and Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei and Lyric Li in Seoul contributed to this report.