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China fumes as Pelosi departs Taiwan

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has departed from her controversial trip to Taiwan, saying China cannot stop world leaders from visiting the island nation China claims as its own.

August 3, 2022
By Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu
3 August 2022

China cannot prevent world leaders from travelling to Taiwan, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi says after concluding a visit to the self-ruled island.

“Sadly, Taiwan has been prevented from participating in global meetings, most recently the World Health Organization, because of objections by the Chinese Communist Party,” Pelosi said in statement.

“While they may prevent Taiwan from sending its leaders to global forums, they cannot prevent world leaders or anyone from travelling to Taiwan to pay respect to its flourishing democracy, to highlight its many successes and to reaffirm our commitment to continued collaboration.”

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Taiwanese President President Tsai Ing-wen, centre, pose for a photo during a meeting of top officials during her visit to Taiwan. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)

China demonstrated its outrage over the highest-level US visit to the island in 25 years with a burst of military activity in surrounding waters, summoning the US ambassador in Beijing and halting several agricultural imports from Taiwan.

Some of China’s planned military exercises were to take place within Taiwan’s 12 nautical mile sea and air territory, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry, an unprecedented move that a senior defence official described to reporters as “amounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan”.

Taiwan scrambled jets on Wednesday to warn away 27 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone, the island’s defence ministry said, adding that 22 of them crossed the median line separating the island from China.

Pelosi arrived with a congressional delegation on her unannounced but closely watched visit late on Tuesday, defying China’s repeated warnings, on a trip that she said demonstrated unwavering US commitment to Taiwan’s democracy.

“Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear that we will not abandon Taiwan,” Pelosi told Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who Beijing suspects of pushing for formal independence – a red line for China.

“Now, more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial, and that’s the message we are bringing here today,” Pelosi said during her roughly 19-hour visit.

She later arrived in South Korea, according to local media.

A long-time China critic, especially on human rights, Pelosi met with a former Tiananmen activist, a Hong Kong bookseller who had been detained by Beijing, and a Taiwanese activist recently released by the Chinese.

Fury on the mainland over the 82-year-old Democrat’s defiance of Beijing was evident all over Chinese social media, with one blogger railing: “this old she-devil, she actually dares to come”.

The most recent US house speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich, in 1997. 

But Pelosi’s visit comes amid sharply deteriorating Sino-US relations, and during the past quarter of a century China has emerged as a far more powerful economic, military and geopolitical force.

Experts say the United States and China must manage their differences so the risks of confrontation don’t spiral out of control. (AP Photo/Huizhong Wu, File)

China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never counted out using force to bring it under its control. 

The United States warned China against using the visit as a pretext for military action against Taiwan.

In retaliation, China’s customs department announced a suspension of imports of citrus fruits, chilled white striped hairtail and frozen horse mackerel from Taiwan, while its commerce ministry banned export of natural sand to the island.

While there was little sign of protest against US targets or consumer goods, there was a significant police presence outside the US consulate in Shanghai and what appeared to be more security than usual outside the embassy in Beijing.

Shortly after Pelosi’s arrival, China’s military announced joint air and sea drills near Taiwan and test launches of conventional missiles in the sea east of the island, with state news agency Xinhua describing live-fire drills and other exercises around Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday.

China’s foreign ministry said Pelosi’s visit seriously damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, “has a severe impact on the political foundation of China-US relations, and seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Before Pelosi’s arrival, Chinese warplanes buzzed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait. The military said it was on high alert and would launch “targeted military operations” in response to Pelosi’s visit.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said after Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan the United States “is not going to be intimidated” by China’s threats or bellicose rhetoric and that there is no reason her visit should precipitate a crisis or conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the potential for Pelosi’s visit with his counterpart Wang Yi during a G20 meeting in Bali last month, and said any such trip would be entirely Pelosi’s decision and independent of the government, a senior US official said on Wednesday.

The US has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is committed to providing it with the means to defend itself. 

China views visits by US officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging pro-independence signal. 

Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims, saying only the Taiwanese people can decide the island’s future.

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