Los Angeles Times

Pelosi says Taiwan visit is in honor of democracy

Speaker’s arrival sure to worsen U.S.-China tensions

- By Stephanie Yang and David Pierson

TAIPEI, Taiwan — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for an unannounce­d but widely anticipate­d and controvers­ial visit sure to deepen U.S.-China tensions and fears of military conflict between the two superpower­s.

Pelosi, an outspoken critic of Beijing, is the highest-ranking elected U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. Even before her arrival during an official tour of Asia, the prospect of a stop in Taiwan drew the ire of Beijing, which sees the trip as a challenge to its claim of sovereignt­y over the self-governed island.

“Our delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy,” Pelosi tweeted within minutes of touching down at the airport in Taipei, the capital. The closely watched flight from Malaysia took a long route around the South China Sea and landed shortly after 10:40 p.m. Pelosi was greeted by Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu and other officials.

In a dig at China, she added that sup

porting Taiwan “is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.” But she also maintained that her visit “in no way contradict­s” the U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan that has held for decades.

Pelosi met with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, Wednesday morning.

Chinese officials have been quick to threaten reprisal, with President Xi Jinping warning President Biden last week that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” The aggressive rhetoric has stoked concerns over military escalation, fueling a debate over the wisdom of Pelosi’s trip and the potential backlash to it.

After Pelosi landed in Taiwan, China’s Ministry of Defense condemned the visit and said it would launch a series of targeted military operations.

State media reported that the military’s Eastern Theater command began a series of naval and air exercises and long-range livefire drills in the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday night, and that the army planned to conduct military drills from Thursday through Sunday all around the island, after Pelosi is scheduled to leave.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday accused the U.S. of emboldenin­g Taiwan’s independen­ce efforts and said it would have to bear the consequenc­es of its actions.

The democratic­ally ruled island of 23 million has become a central point of contention in the deteriorat­ing U.S.-China relationsh­ip. With mistrust growing between the two countries, analysts said Pelosi’s visit could lead to miscommuni­cation and a military clash that neither side wants.

“The risk of an unintended crisis as a result of large-scale military posturing by China is uncomforta­bly high,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at the think tank Internatio­nal Crisis Group. “It’s very possible for policymake­rs on the two sides to radically misread each other’s intentions.”

Given the heightened tensions, the U.S., China and Taiwan will need to tread carefully to avoid aggravatin­g the situation, Hsiao said.

China’s global power and influence have grown exponentia­lly since the last such visit by a U.S. official of Pelosi’s rank, when thenSpeake­r Newt Gingrich, a Republican, traveled to Taiwan in 1997 to meet with then-President Lee Tenghui.

Some experts in the U.S. warned that Pelosi’s trip would offer little material benefit but could prompt a saber-rattling response from Beijing that would mushroom into a larger crisis. Others, though, worried that a cancellati­on would be seen as bowing to Chinese pressure and could undermine faith in U.S. support for Taiwan.

While the Biden administra­tion is reluctant to look soft on China, it also has little interest in antagonizi­ng the country’s leadership, particular­ly with war raging between Russia and Ukraine. The U.S. has warned China against providing materiel support to Russia, and would be hardpresse­d to confront challenges from both countries at once.

Prior to Pelosi’s trip, Biden said the Pentagon advised against it but was taking steps to ensure her safety. White House National Security Council spokesman John F. Kirby said the visit did not contravene long-standing U.S. policy and should not be a reason for China to increase military activity.

Analysts said that though Beijing is under pressure to follow through with its warnings, it wants to stop short of actions that could draw it into a war with the U.S., which is bound by federal law to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself. Biden has said the U.S. would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan, though the administra­tion has walked back those comments. China’s countermea­sures, which include missile tests, expanding military exercises and more aggressive air and sea excursions, are a step up from normal military activity around Taiwan and indicate a more provocativ­e stance.

More dire possibilit­ies might include a naval blockade directed at the key southweste­rn port city of Kaohsiung, no-fly zones over the Taiwan Strait and military exercises that cut off Taiwan’s conduit to the outside world. Those scenarios would mark significan­t escalation and pose grave danger for the Taiwanese military, which would have to respond by scrambling warplanes and naval assets.

“The Chinese military will not target the U.S.,” said Yujen Kuo, director of the Institute for National Policy Research at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan. “China will punish Taiwan.”

China also suspended food imports from more than 100 companies in Taiwan, local media here reported Tuesday. China has previously banned Taiwanese products such as pineapple and grouper, seen as an attempt to exert economic pressure on the island.

China has long considered Taiwan part of its territory, though the Communist Party has never ruled the island. After losing the Chinese civil war in 1949, the Nationalis­t Party fled to Taiwan with the goal of one day retaking China. In 1979, Washington switched diplomatic relations to the Communist Party, and adopted a policy of acknowledg­ing Beijing’s claim over Taiwan without endorsing it. Meanwhile, Taiwan transition­ed into democratic rule, and increasing­ly its citizens view their cultural and political identity as separate from mainland China.

As Beijing has ramped up calls for unificatio­n and buzzed the island with record numbers of warplanes, the growing tensions have led some officials to warn that an attack is possible in the next few years.

Xi, who is expected to break Chinese political norms by securing a third five-year term as president this year, considers unificatio­n with Taiwan of utmost importance under his broader goal of “national rejuvenati­on.” The Chinese leader is juggling domestic challenges ahead of the anticipate­d term extension, including a property crisis and the economic impact of COVID-19 lockdowns. A response to Pelosi’s visit seen as weak domestical­ly could undermine his leadership at a politicall­y sensitive time.

How aggressive­ly China chooses to push is entirely up to Xi, Kuo said. But if he “doesn’t react strongly to Pelosi’s visit, he will face tremendous challenges from other factions within the Communist Party.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised awareness of the potential for conflict with mainland China, spurring initiative­s to bolster defenses in the Taiwanese military and among civilians. However, many locals are skeptical that Pelosi’s visit will lead to a substantiv­e change in China’s military approach toward Taiwan.

Despite pressure from Beijing, many Taiwanese citizens and lawmakers celebrated Pelosi’s arrival as a sign of U.S. support and internatio­nal recognitio­n. On Tuesday evening, the Taipei 101 skyscraper was lighted with messages of thanks and gratitude to Pelosi and the U.S.

While the Nationalis­t Party generally favors closer ties with Beijing, the opposition party also said Tuesday that it welcomes Pelosi, along with other internatio­nal visitors who promote liberal democratic values and free trade.

“The visit should not be interprete­d as a provocatio­n but rather as support for maintainin­g the crossstrai­t status quo,” said Wen Lii, director of the Matsu Islands chapter of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressiv­e Party. “I think it’s important for Taiwan to continue to receive public gestures of support from fellow democracie­s.”

 ?? Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs ?? NANCY PELOSI, with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, as she arrives as the highest-ranking elected U.S. official to visit Taiwan since 1997.
Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs NANCY PELOSI, with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, as she arrives as the highest-ranking elected U.S. official to visit Taiwan since 1997.
 ?? U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER Taiwan Presidenti­al Office ?? Nancy Pelosi, left, and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. Pelosi said earlier that supporting Taiwan is paramount “as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER Taiwan Presidenti­al Office Nancy Pelosi, left, and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. Pelosi said earlier that supporting Taiwan is paramount “as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”

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