Updated at 4:46 p.m. ET on 2022-08-02
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan late on Tuesday for a visit amid angry denunciations and heightened threats from Chinese officials, who unveiled plans to hold days of military drills by China’s People’s Liberation Army in the seas around the self-governing island.
In defiance of days of angry threats from Beijing, Pelosi, the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, arrived at Songshan airport near the capital Taipei around 10:45 p.m. (local time), as she led a congressional delegation trip to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Asian allies.
Hundreds of Taiwanese, as well as Tibetans, gathered at her hotel to welcome the 82-year-old lawmaker, long a staunch critic of Beijing, while a small group of people who favor unification with the mainland and opposed the visit told Pelosi to go home.
“Our Congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“Our visit is part of our broader trip to the Indo-Pacific – including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan – focused on mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance,” Pelosi said after she and her delegation arrived on a U.S. military flight from Kuala Lumpur.
Pelosi and her delegation had arrived in Malaysia on Tuesday morning, attended a lunch hosted by Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and met with parliament speaker Azhar Azizan Harun before departing the country in the mid-afternoon.
After the delegation’s plane touched down at the airport near Taipei, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: “Minister [Joseph] Wu welcomed our faithful #US friends & wished them a superb visit. #Taiwan is not alone!”
Wu tweeted: “Thank you & the congressional delegation for traveling all the way to show your support.”
In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry swiftly released an angry statement accusing Pelosi and the United States of supporting Taiwanese independence. China “has made [a] serious démarche and strong protest” to Washington, it said.
“Since Speaker Pelosi is the incumbent leader of the U.S. Congress, her visit to and activities in Taiwan, in whatever form and for whatever reason, is a major political provocation to upgrade U.S. official exchanges with Taiwan. China absolutely does not accept this, and the Chinese people absolutely reject this,” the statement from the ministry said.
“China will definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the U.S. Speaker’s visit. All the consequences arising therefrom must be borne by the U.S. side and the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” it added.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party-controlled Global Times tweeted that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would hold “important military drills and training activities, including live-fire drills” in six regions surrounding Taiwan, from Thursday to Sunday.
In the hours before Pelosi’s arrival, the military launched drills on Tuesday, with state TV calling the war games “a serious deterrent against the recent escalation of negative moves by the United States on the Taiwan issue and a serious warning to the ‘independence’ forces seeking ‘independence.’”
In the run up to the trip, both China and Taiwan’s militaries were placed on high alert in preparation for the visit. Chinese domestic air travel in Fuzhou, across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan, was disrupted on Tuesday, indicating that military flights may be taking place nearby.
Taiwanese civilians have been participating in air raid drills to prepare for a potential attack by China’s much larger military.
The United States does not recognize Taiwan diplomatically but retains close unofficial ties with Taipei and is obligated by law to provide it with defense capabilities. Beijing considers the self-ruling, democratic island a breakaway province, to be united with the mainland by force if necessary, and objects strongly to high-level U.S. visits.
The last sitting House speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Earlier on Tuesday, local media reported that the Taiwanese military had stepped up its combat readiness to prepare for threats from China ahead of the U.S. house speaker’s expected visit to the island.
At the same time, the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group was operating near Taiwan, a Chinese think-tank said.
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency (CNA) quoted anonymous “reliable sources” as saying that, from 8 a.m. on Tuesday until noon on Thursday the military would “strengthen combat readiness” of troops and make adjustments in accordance with the threats from the PLA.
On Monday, Radio Free Asia (RFA) sources and sources cited by local media and CNN said Pelosi would make an unofficial trip late on Tuesday to the island, a stop that was not on her official four-nation itinerary. RFA is an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.
The reports of an impending unofficial stopover in Taipei prompted China to warn that any visit by Pelosi would lead to “very serious developments and consequences,” in remarks saying that the Communist country’s powerful military would not stand by in such an event.
Some in Washington have questioned the timing and need for such a trip at a time when Sino-U.S. relations are at low ebb over longstanding disputes over trade, security, and human rights. President Joe Biden had cited Pentagon concerns about the trip, without expressing his views on Pelosi’s plans.
Taiwan’s armed forces operate at two levels of combat readiness for peacetime and wartime, each level comprises several stages. It is understood that the current stage of preparedness is still within the peacetime level but could change.
The island’s Ministry of National Defense has yet to make any comment on the news about China announcing more live-fire exercises in the South China Sea and Bohai Sea.
On Tuesday morning, several Chinese military aircraft and warships came close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait – the tacit maritime border between Taiwan and the mainland – the Reuters news agency reported, quoting an anonymous source.
This move is “unusual” and can be seen as “very provocative,” the agency quoted the source as saying.
The island’s military has a “full grasp” of activities near Taiwan and “will appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to enemy threats,” the Taiwanese defense ministry said.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was sailing in the northern Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan, China’s South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) think-tank said, tracking the latest flight trajectory of the carrier-borne C-2A Greyhound cargo aircraft.
On Monday and Tuesday, China announced four more live-fire drills on top of four exercises that ended at the weekend.
The first one was being held in the South China Sea near Hainan Island, from Aug. 1 until Aug. 6, the same period of Pelosi’s Asia tour.
The other three live-fire drills are in the Bohai Sea, on the east coast of mainland China, also between Aug. 1 and Aug. 6.
On Sunday, the PLA also conducted mock air combat training after midnight “with the aim of improving the pilots' ability to quickly enter combat status for abnormal situations at any time,” The Global Times reported.
In Washington, the White House and the top U.S. diplomat said Pelosi's travel plans were up to her but urged China not to turn any such visit to Taiwan into a diplomatic crisis.
“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan, and a speaker of the House has visited Taiwan before, without incident, as have many members of Congress, including this year,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council.
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or conflict or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” he told reporters.
Kirby said Washington would not be moved by any Chinese effort to raise tensions over Pelosi.
“We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated,” he said.
Taiwan’s presidential office and foreign ministry both declined to comment on any visit by Pelosi, although premier Su Chen-chang said that the island’s government, which still uses the name of the 1911 Republic of China, would welcome any foreign VIP guests.
Radio Free Asia produced this report. Muzliza Mustafa, of BenarNews, contributed to it from Kuala Lumpur.