House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a Democratic congressional delegation landed in Taiwan on Tuesday, following through with a visit that brought condemnation and threats from China and could sever already strained relations between Washington and Beijing.
Upon the arrival of Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Taipei around 10:45 p.m. local time, she became the highest-ranking US elected official to travel to the island nation since then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Reports had circulated for weeks that Pelosi would go to Taiwan as part of an Asian tour during the August House recess. Her office had previously announced she would swing through Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan — but made no mention of Taiwan.
The reported visit frayed nerves on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. President Biden said July 20 that the US military believed a Pelosi trip to Taiwan was “not a good idea now.” However, members of Congress responded by rallying behind the speaker — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said Pelosi would hand China “a victory of sorts” if she canceled.
Beijing had repeatedly made clear that it would view a visit by Pelosi as an endorsement of Taiwan’s independence and China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that its military would “not sit idly by” if the speaker went ahead with the trip.
“We would like to tell the United States once again that China is standing by, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by, and China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
China views self-governed Taiwan as part of its territory, and Washington’s so-called “One China” policy means the US acknowledges — but does not endorse — Beijing’s claims.
While the US doesn’t have full diplomatic ties to Taiwan, it has an agreement to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted that Pelosi’s visit held no special significance.
“Nothing has changed,” he told reporters. “It is not without precedent for a Speaker of the House to go to Taiwan — if she goes, and I’m not confirming that she is — and it’s certainly not without precedent for members of Congress to want to travel to Taiwan. It has been done this year, and I’m certain that it will be done in the future.
“We have no interest … [in] increasing tensions here,” Kirby added.
In a phone call with President Biden last week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned the US about consequences of a potential Pelosi visit.
“The position of the Chinese government and people on the Taiwan question is consistent, and resolutely safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity is the firm will of the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people,” China’s foreign ministry said in a readout of Thursday’s 137-minute call.
“The public opinion cannot be defied. Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.”
Joining Pelosi on the trip are Democratic Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York, Mark Takano of California, Suzan DelBene of Washington, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Andy Kim of New Jersey.
With Post wires