Pelosi's visit to Taiwan leads to new tensions with China

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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on what was Tuesday evening there, increasing tensions between the United States and China, where the visit is being viewed as a provocation.

The White House had hoped that Pelosi’s trip through East Asia would not include a stop in Taiwan. Those hopes were scuttled by midmorning in Washington, as video footage showed Pelosi’s motorcade traveling from Songshan Airport into the city. Crowds of Taipei residents greeted her arrival.

A scooter is driven in the evening in front of people standing behind barricades holding signs that read: Republic of Taiwan welcomes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Madam speaker welcome to Taiwan.
Supporters await a convoy carrying U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Taipei, Taiwan, on Tuesday. (I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Beijing was quick to criticize the visit, with China’s Foreign Ministry issuing a withering statement. China sees Taiwan as a renegade province and has repeatedly threatened to take the island by force.

“No country, no forces and no individual should ever misestimate the firm resolve, strong will and great capability of the Chinese Government and people to defend state sovereignty and territorial integrity and to achieve national reunification and rejuvenation,” the statement 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.”

Chinese fighter jets were reported to have crossed the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday night. Troops were also deployed to Fujian province, the most logical site on the Chinese mainland from which an invasion of Taiwan would be launched.

The self-governing island poses an enormous geopolitical challenge for the Biden administration, one that Pelosi’s visit brings to a fore.

Nancy Pelosi walks on an airport tarmac surrounded by a half dozen others, all wearing face masks.
Pelosi with Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, as she arrives in Taipei on Tuesday. (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP) (AP)

Through its long-standing One China policy, the U.S. effectively accepts Beijing's claims over the island. At the same time, the United States has been providing Taipei with military support since passage of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, even if Washington does not support Taiwanese independence.

In a Washington Post op-ed published on Tuesday, Pelosi — who is traveling with a congressional delegation and is expected to visit South Korea and Japan next — reiterated her support for the One China policy while acknowledging Taiwan’s desire for freedom. If it was a confusing and contradictory message, it nevertheless reflects the Washington consensus.

In her op-ed, Pelosi argued that the visit “should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom.”

American diplomats would much rather keep U.S. support of Taiwan a quiet matter, letting contradictions fester — as they have for years — without imperiling relations with its largest trade partner. China and the United States trade more than $500 billion worth of goods annually.

Yet as China’s territorial ambitions have become more explicit, U.S. military aid to Taiwan has intensified, with the intention of discouraging the kind of invasion that Vladimir Putin of Russia launched into Ukraine in February. “China is probably not ready to take a risk of an invasion with current force levels and capabilities in terms of attacking Taiwan,” retired Gen. James Stavridis told the New York Times in May.

Pelosi did not give public remarks upon landing in Taipei. But she did write on Twitter, “Our visit reiterates that America stands with Taiwan: a robust, vibrant democracy and our important partner in the Indo-Pacific.”

The last House speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich, in 1997.

This article has been updated to more accurately describe the One China policy.