August 2, 2022
Nancy Pelosi has landed in Taiwan for a controversial visit to the self-ruled island, escalating already heightened tensions with China.
Helen Davidson in Taipei
The US House of Representatives speaker’s plane landed at Songshan airport in Taipei about 10.45pm local time on Tuesday. She was greeted by foreign minister Joseph Wu and the US representative in Taiwan, Sandra Oudkirk, and is expected to meet the president, Tsai Ing-wen, on Wednesday morning.
China, which regards Taiwan as its territory, has repeatedly warned of retaliation if Pelosi visits, saying its military will “never sit idly by”.
Even before Pelosi left the runway, China’s foreign ministry was posting furiously online. “China firmly opposes separatist moves towards ‘Taiwan independence’ and interference by external forces,” said ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.
“The US should give up any attempt to play the Taiwan card.”
At the same time, Chinese state media reported PLA Su-35 fighter jets were flying across the strait.
The visit appeared to have prompted high levels of military movement and preparations among the Chinese, Taiwanese and US militaries.
The China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly moved several warships and planes near the median line – an unofficial border between China and Taiwan in the Taiwan strait. According to multiple social media posts it also drove dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles through the Chinese mainland city of Xiamen, which is just three miles (5km) across the water from Taiwan’s outlying Kinmen Island.
Taiwan’s defense ministry reportedly increased its military alertness for the next four days and warned it would appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to “enemy threats”. In a statement it said it had the “determination, ability and confidence” to ensure Taiwan’s national security, and had made various unspecified plans for an emergency.
Reuters earlier reported four US warships, including a carrier strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan, were positioned in waters east of the island on “routine” deployments.
A number of analysts have told the Guardian that a hostile military act from China is unlikely, but that the response was likely to exceed any others in recent years. Some, including senior Taiwanese figures who spoke on condition of anonymity, expected any significant act to occur after Pelosi departed, to avoid a confrontation with US military assets.
They also noted a response could include punitive economic action. On Tuesday, Chinese authorities announced a sudden ban on imports from more than 100 Taiwanese food companies, which was interpreted as an act of retribution over the expected visit, a trade tool China has often used in bilateral disputes.
Pelosi is expected to stay in the Grand Hyatt hotel on the outskirts of Taipei city, before meeting with Tsai on Wednesday morning. The stop was unannounced and not included on the official itinerary of her Asia tour, which included Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea.
Taiwan is conducting a balancing act of maintaining the safety of the status quo with China while nurturing international relationships. Taiwan officials would not comment on the highly anticipated visit prior to Pelosi’s arrival, other than to say it always welcomes the visits of foreign friends.
Pelosi is only the latest in a long line of foreign delegates to visit Taiwan in recent years, but Beijing took significant exception to her seniority as the speaker of the House, and appeared to disbelieve that the US separation of powers meant Biden had no power to order her not to go.
The visit has drawn extraordinary levels of interest.
On Tuesday afternoon, almost 300,000 people were tracking a US air force flight that was potentially carrying the speaker’s delegation. There were two USAF planes in Malaysia after a second was flown in from Japan that morning.
Pelosi’s flight took a non-direct path from Kuala Lumpur, detouring over Indonesia and the Philippines, avoiding the South China Sea to fly in from Taiwan’s east coast. Among the concerns about China’s reaction were fears it would send PLA aircraft to intercept or tail her plane into Taiwan’s airspace.
Outside the Songshan airport, crowds of supporters gathered to welcome Pelosi. Father and son and Timothy Lee stood with hand-drawn signs “USA Taiwan, welcome Nancy”. Timothy told the Guardian that Pelosi had risked her life to show support for Taiwan. “We should be good hosts.”
News Stories Researched and Posted by Our Team of Volunteer Citizen Journalists.