US speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives in Taiwan amid rising tensions with China

2 August 2022, 18:04

Nancy Pelosi
Taiwan Asia Pelosi. Picture: PA

She is the highest-ranking American official to visit the island in 25 years.

US house speaker Nancy Pelosi has arrived in Taiwan, becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the self-ruled island that is claimed by China in 25 years.

Ms Pelosi’s visit has triggered increased tensions 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.

The government in Beijing had warned of “resolute and strong measures” if Ms Pelosi went ahead with the trip.

Speculation has centred on threatening military exercises and possible incursions by Chinese planes and ships into areas under Taiwanese control.

The Biden administration did not explicitly urge her to call the visit off, while seeking to assure Beijing 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 bankrupting its national credibility”.

“Some American politicians are playing with fire on the issue of Taiwan,” Mr Wang said in a statement.

“This will definitely not have a good outcome … the exposure of America’s bullying face again shows it as the world’s biggest saboteur of peace.”

The plane carrying Ms Pelosi and her delegation left Malaysia earlier on Tuesday after a brief stop that included a working lunch with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Barricades were erected outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei where Ms Pelosi was expected to stay amid heightened security.

Welcome banner in Taipei
Supporters hold a banner outside the hotel where Ms Pelosi is supposed to be staying in Taipei (AP)

Two buildings in the capital lit up LED displays with words of welcome, including the iconic Taipei 101 building, which said: “Welcome to Taiwan, Speaker Pelosi”.

China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary, has repeatedly warned of retaliation for Ms Pelosi’s visit, saying its military will “never sit idly by.”

“The US and Taiwan have colluded to make provocations first, and China has only been compelled to act out of self-defence,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday in Beijing.

Nancy Pelosi
Ms Pelosi on arrival in Taipei (AP)

Ms Hua said China has been in constant communication with the US and made clear “how dangerous it would be if the visit actually happens”.

Any counter-measures China take will be “justified and necessary” in the face of Washington’s “unscrupulous behaviour,” she said.

Shortly after Ms Pelosi’s arrival, a representative of the Chinese legislature’s Standing Committee issued a statement saying the trip “severely violated” the “One China principle,” which is Beijing’s claim to be the sole government of both mainland China and Taiwan.

Earlier, 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.

Nancy Pelosi in Malaysia
Ms Pelosi during her visit to Malaysia (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

Unspecified hackers launched a cyber attack on the Taiwanese Presidential Office’s website, making it temporarily unavailable on Tuesday evening. The Presidential Office said the website was restored shortly after the attack, which overwhelmed it with traffic.

“China thinks by launching a multi-domain pressure campaign against Taiwan, the people of Taiwan will be be intimidated. But they are wrong,” Wang Ting-yu, a legislator with the Democratic Progressive Party, said on Twitter in response to the attack.

China’s military threats have driven concerns of a new crisis in the 100 mile-wide Taiwan Strait that could roil global markets and supply chains.

The White House decried Beijing’s rhetoric, saying the US has no interest in deepening tensions with China and “will not take the bait or engage in sabre-rattling”.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby underlined that the decision whether to visit Taiwan was ultimately Ms Pelosi’s. He noted that members of US congress have routinely visited the island over the years.

Mr Kirby said administration officials are concerned that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, or flying sorties into the island’s airspace and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.

“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Mr Kirby said.

US officials have said the American military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region during Ms Pelosi’s visit.

US Navy aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were in the Philippine Sea on Monday, officials said.

The Reagan, the cruiser USS Antietam and the destroyer USS Higgins left Singapore after a port visit and moved north to their home port in Japan.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after the Communists won a civil war on the mainland. The US maintains informal relations and defence ties with Taiwan.

Beijing sees official American 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. Ms Pelosi, head of one of three branches of the US government, is the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.

Ms Pelosi has used her position in the US Congress as an emissary for the US on the global 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.

By Press Association

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