US House Speaker Pelosi lands in Taiwan; Chinese fighter jets take to the skies

  • Chinese warplanes buzz Taiwan Strait dividing line
  • Visit of US House speaker has enraged Beijing
  • Beijing insists self-governed Taiwan is part of China

TAIPEI, Aug. 2 (Reuters) – Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, arrived in China-claimed Taiwan late Tuesday aboard a U.S. military plane, the first visit in 25 years and a visit that risks the relations between Washington and Beijing to a new low.

Pelosi and her delegation disembarked from a US Air Force transportation plan at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei and were greeted by Taiwan’s Secretary of State Joseph Wu and Sandra Oudkirk, the top US representative in Taiwan.

“Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan is a tribute to America’s unwavering commitment to support Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement shortly after landing. “America’s solidarity with Taiwan’s 23 million people is more important than ever today as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”

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Pelosi was on a tour of Asia with announced visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Her stop in Taiwan had not been announced, but was widely anticipated.

Chinese warplanes buzzed along the line separating the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday before her arrival as Chinese leadership warned of the visit of Pelosi, the second in line to succeed the US presidency and a long-time critic of Beijing.

In the latest rhetorical salvo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday that US politicians who “play with fire” on the Taiwanese issue “will not come to a happy ending”.

The United States said Monday it would not be intimidated by what the Chinese called “saber rattling”.

Most of Pelosi’s scheduled meetings, including with President Tsai Ing-wen, were scheduled for Wednesday, a person familiar with her travel schedule said. Four sources said she was scheduled to meet a group of activists on Wednesday afternoon who are outspoken about China’s human rights record.

Pelosi, 82, is a close ally of US President Joe Biden, both members of the Democratic Party, and has been a key figure in leading its legislative agenda through the US Congress.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it would not comment on reports of Pelosi’s travel plans, while its office also remained silent.

On Tuesday evening, Taiwan’s tallest building, Taipei 101, lit up with messages such as: “Welcome to Taiwan”, “Speaker Pelosi”, “Taiwan (heart) USA”.

While tensions were already high, several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning before departing later in the day, a source told Reuters. Several Chinese warships have also sailed near the unofficial dividing line since Monday and have remained there, the source said.

The Chinese plane repeatedly made tactical moves by briefly “touching” the centerline and circling back to the other side of the strait while Taiwanese planes were on standby nearby, the person said.

Aircraft from neither side normally cross the center line.

Four US warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, were deployed in waters east of Taiwan on what the US Navy called routine deployment. The aircraft carrier had passed through the South China Sea and was now in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan, a US Navy official told Reuters.

It operated with the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and destroyer USS Higgins, with the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli also in the area.

Since last week, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has conducted several exercises, including live fire drills, in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, in a show of Chinese military might.

China sees visits by US officials to Taiwan as an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp on the democratic, self-governed island. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never refrained from using force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims, saying only the people can decide the island’s future.

The United States does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is required by US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

‘STATE PROVOCTOR’

Russia – itself locked in confrontation with the West over its invasion of Ukraine – also agreed to Pelosi’s expected visit. Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said the visit was a provocative attempt by the US to put pressure on China, a country with which Russia has forged a strong partnership in recent years.

“The US is a state provocateur,” Zakharova said. “Russia affirms the principle of ‘one China’ and opposes the independence of the island in any form.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Pelosi visited Malaysia after starting her Asia tour in Singapore on Monday. Her office said she would also go to South Korea and Japan, but made no mention of visiting Taiwan.

The Taiwan Ministry of Defense said it had fully mastered military activities near Taiwan and would send troops in response to “enemy threats”.

China’s defense and foreign ministries have not responded to requests for comment.

In the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen, which faces Taiwan and has a large military presence, residents reported sightings of armored vehicles.

Chinese social media was buzzing with fear over potential conflicts as well as patriotic fervor.

“Faced with the reckless disregard of China’s repeated and serious statements, all countermeasures on the Chinese side will be justified and necessary, which is also the right of every independent and sovereign country,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying. at a daily briefing in Beijing. .

In a phone call last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping Biden warned that Washington must abide by the One-China principle and that “those who play with fire perish.” Biden told Xi that US policy towards Taiwan had not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that Beijing’s responses could include firing missiles near Taiwan, large-scale air or naval activities, or further “false legal claims” such as China’s claim that the Strait of Taiwan is not an international waterway.

“We won’t fall for the bait or engage in saber-rattling. At the same time, we won’t be intimidated,” Kirby said.

Bonnie Glaser, a Taiwanese expert with the United States’ German Marshall Fund, told reporters in an appeal that the damage done to US-China relations by the Pelosi visit would be difficult to repair.

“We all know how bad this relationship has been over the past year. And I just think this visit from Nancy Pelosi will take it to a new low,” Glaser said. “And I think it will be very difficult to recover from that.”

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Reporting by Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu; Additional coverage by Fabian Hamacher in Taipei, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Written by Tony Munroe and Michael Martina; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Will Dunham and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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