By HUIZHONG WU, EILEEN NG and LISA MASCARO
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late on Aug. 2, becoming the highest-ranking American official in 25 years to visit the self-ruled island claimed by China, which quickly announced that it would conduct military maneuvers in retaliation for her presence.
Pelosi flew in aboard a U.S. Air Force passenger jet and was greeted on the tarmac at Taipei’s international airport by Taiwan’s foreign minister and other Taiwanese and American officials. She posed for photos before her motorcade whisked her unseen into the parking garage of a hotel.
Her visit ratcheted up tension between China and the United States because China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and it views visits by foreign government officials as recognition of the island’s sovereignty.
The Biden administration, and Pelosi, say the United States remains committed to the so-called one-China policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.
The speaker framed the trip as part of a broader mission at a time when “the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.” Her visit comes after she led a congressional delegation to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the spring, and it serves as a capstone to her many years of promoting democracy abroad.
“We must stand by Taiwan,” she said in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post on her arrival in Taiwan. She cited the commitment that the U.S. made to a democratic Taiwan under a 1979 law.
“It is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats,” she wrote.
Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to take it.
The Biden administration did not explicitly urge Pelosi to call off her plans. It repeatedly and publicly assured Beijing that the visit did not signal any change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan.
Soon after Pelosi’s arrival, China announced a series of military operations and drills, which followed promises of “resolute and strong measures” if Pelosi went through with her visit.
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,” Wang said in a statement that referred to the U.S. as “the world’s biggest saboteur of peace.”
Pelosi’s trip was not officially announced ahead of time.
Barricades were erected outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei. Journalists and onlookers thronged the streets just outside and pressed against the hotel’s lobby windows as they awaited Pelosi’s motorcade. 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’s military threats have driven concerns about a new crisis in the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait that could roil global markets and supply chains.
The White House insisted that China had no valid cause for anger.
“The United States will not seek, and does not want, a crisis,” John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, told a White House briefing on Aug. 2. “At the same time, we will not engage in saber-rattling.”
U.S. officials have said the American military will increase its movements in the Indo-Pacific region during Pelosi’s visit. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were in the Philippine Sea on Aug. 1, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
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.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Aug. 3 that China had sent 21 planes flying toward Taiwan, 18 of them fighter jets. The rest included an early warning plane and an electronic warfare plane.
Pelosi’s aircraft, an Air Force version of the Boeing 737, took a roundabout route, flying east over Indonesia rather than directly over the South China Sea.
The speaker has long challenged China on human rights, including traveling to Tiananmen Square in 1991, two years after China crushed a wave of democracy protests.