House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., landed in Taiwan late Tuesday evening local time, and she is expected to meet members of Taiwan’s legislature and President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, according to a source familiar with planning for her visit.
The highly-anticipated stop has faced stark warnings from China, in turn worrying the White House that it could trigger a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and worsen already tense U.S.-China relations. China sent two Su-35 fighter jets across the Taiwan strait ahead of Pelosi’s arrival, according to state broadcaster CCTV, and the spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said on Twitter, “The US & Taiwan have made provocations together first, whereas China has been compelled to act in self-defense.”
The visit was not announced in advance, and it comes as part of Pelosi’s tour of Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea, where she has been leading a small congressional delegation. She is the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997. The source familiar with planning for Pelosi’s visit says she will be given an award by Taiwan’s president and visit a museum before departing on Wednesday.
The island democracy governs itself, but China claims it as its territory. Rumors of Pelosi’s visit launched a geopolitical firestorm amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and China.
The Taiwanese government has operated separately from the mainland since nationalists fled there after losing the civil war to communists in 1949. Thirty years later, the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, adopting what’s known as the “One China” policy, in which Washington acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is a part of China. However, the U.S. has never supported China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan and maintains a substantial, though unofficial, relationship with the island.
Pelosi penned an opinion piece published by the Washington Post upon her arrival citing the Taiwan Relations Act as establishing a commitment to Taiwan’s democracy and defense, adding, “We must stand by Taiwan, which is an island of resilience.” She said Taiwan is under threat by the government in Beijing economically, in cyberspace, and potentially by military force.
“In the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) accelerating aggression, our congressional delegation’s visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom,” Pelosi wrote.
In response to Pelosi’s visit, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement that said, in part, it was a “serious violation of the one-China principle.” The ministry added, “It gravely undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sends a seriously wrong signal to the separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence.'”
By law, the U.S. is obligated to provide Taiwan with weapons and services. But the U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” keeps open the question of whether it would intervene in the case of a military invasion by China. The Biden administration has been accused of mixed messaging on this, after Biden said on multiple occassions that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense; a sentiment the White House walked back.
The Chinese government remains adamantly opposed to any official exchanges between Taiwan’s government and other foreign governments, and views official American contact with Taiwan as an indication of support for its independence.
Pelosi’s trip comes days after Biden and Xi spoke by phone on a wide range of issues, including Taiwan. Biden sought to reassure his Chinese counterpart that U.S. policy hasn’t changed, saying it “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” according to the official U.S. readout of the call.
On Wednesday, Biden told reporters the U.S. military thinks a Taiwan visit by Pelosi is “not a good idea right now.”For her part, Pelosi said “it’s important for us to show support for Taiwan,” during a press conference on July 21. Her visit got a statement of praise from a group of Republican senators after she landed.
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