Pelosi says US will ‘not abandon’ Taiwan as China plans military drills

Pelosi’s trip, the first by a sitting US speaker in 25 years, had been foreshadowed for days. As the California Democrat left the island on Wednesday afternoon for South Korea, there were already signs of the strain his visit to Taipei had put on Washington’s relationship with Beijing, which warned that his trip would have a “serious impact on the political basis of China-US Relations”.

The Chinese Communist Party, which rules China, considers Taiwan part of its territory, although it has never controlled it and has long pledged to “reunify” the island with mainland China, by force if necessary.

Pelosi’s praise of the island’s commitment to democracy was a significant show of support for Taipei, just hours after China threatened to retaliate against its presence with a series of military exercises that the Defense Department of Taiwan likened it to a “sea and air blockade”.

Beijing had repeatedly warned of dire consequences if the trip went ahead, even going so far as to warn US President Joe Biden that those who played with fire would “perish” for it.

But warnings from Beijing – and even a suggestion from Biden himself that the US military thought the trip was “not a good idea” – did not dissuade Pelosi, 82, from flying to the island in alongside a congressional delegation Tuesday evening and meeting with its top officials.

“We are proud of our enduring friendship,” Pelosi said, speaking alongside Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei the morning after her arrival.

“Now more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial and that is the message we bring here today.”

China’s response

Pelosi arrived to a very warm welcome in Taipei, with the city’s tallest building, Taipei 101, lit up with a welcome message and her supporters gathered outside her hotel, though his visit to the legislature on Wednesday drew a smattering of protesters. The video showed some people shouting, “Pelosi, get out” and holding signs that said, “Taiwan doesn’t want war.”

President Tsai thanked Pelosi for her visit, praised her long-standing commitment to democracy and human rights, and awarded her Taiwan’s highest civilian honor.

Beijing, minutes after Pelosi’s arrival in Taipei, said it would immediately begin “a series of joint military operations around the island,” including the use of long-range live ammunition in the strait Taiwan that separates the island from mainland China.

China to conduct live-fire military drills in Taiwan as Pelosi visits

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense described the military drills as “irrational” and tantamount to a “blockade”. He said the planned drills would violate Taiwan’s territorial waters, “threaten an international waterway, challenge international order, undermine the cross-strait status quo and endanger regional security.”

On Tuesday, 21 Chinese warplanes made incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense. The raids were carried out by 10 J-16 fighter jets, eight J-11 fighter jets, one Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft, one Y-8 electronic intelligence aircraft and one early warning and control aircraft KJ-500 aircraft, the ministry said. .

On Wednesday, as Pelosi met with Taiwan’s leaders, bumping elbows and posing for photos, China suspended imports of citrus fruits and some fish products from Taiwan, as well as exports of sand to the island

Chinese customs claimed the suspension of citrus imports was the result of “pest control” and “excess pesticide residues” and cited “Covid prevention” for the suspension of seafood imports. However, its previous bans on some Taiwanese products have often coincided with periods of escalating tensions.

“Taiwan will not back down”

President Tsai, like Pelosi, appeared unmoved by China’s warnings.

“Faced with deliberately intensified military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said during a televised meeting with Pelosi.

“We firmly defend the sovereignty of our nation and will continue to maintain the line of defense of democracy. At the same time, we want to cooperate and work in unity with all democracies in the world to jointly safeguard democratic values.”

Taiwan would do “whatever it takes” to strengthen its defense capabilities, added Tsai, who said she was committed to “maintaining peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait and pledged to make Taiwan a “key stabilizing force” for regional security and global trade development.

Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that “America stands with Taiwan” and China “will not stop” people from coming to visit the island.

“We have to show the world, and this is one of the purposes of our trip, to show the world the success of the people of Taiwan,” he said. “We want Taiwan to always have freedom with security, and we will not retreat from it.”

She too he praised Taiwan as “one of the freest societies in the world.”

Pelosi and the US congressional delegation also met with Taiwanese lawmakers and exchanged pleasantries with Taiwan’s Vice President Tsai Chi-chang before a closed-door meeting.

Pelosi is a longtime critic of the Chinese Communist Party. He has denounced Beijing’s human rights record and met pro-democracy dissidents and the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who remains a thorn in the Chinese government’s side.

In 1991, Pelosi unfurled a banner in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate the victims of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters. Most recently, he has voiced his support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

On Wednesday, Pelosi and the congressional delegation left the self-governing island at around 6 pm (local), departing from Taiwan’s Songshan Airport.

This story has been updated with additional news.

CNN’s Yong Xiong, Gladys Liu, Akanksha Sharma, Hannah Ritchie, Alex Stambaugh and Mayumi Maruyama contributed to the report.

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