U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation landed in Taiwan late Tuesday night, local time, following weeks’ worth of increasingly dire warnings from Chinese officials and media against the visit. Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, along with Sandra Oudkirk, the head of the de facto U.S. embassy on Taiwan, were there to greet Pelosi upon her arrival.
In Taiwan, Pelosi is expected to meet with Taiwanese legislators as well as President Tsai Ing-wen.
“Our Congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement issued upon her arrival in Taiwan.
“…Our discussions with Taiwan leadership will focus on reaffirming our support for our partner and on promoting our shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region. America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
Pelosi’s trip was not officially confirmed in advance by either her office or the government on Taiwan, in keeping with previous precedent. But after a series of leaks to the media, the trip attracted feverish attention around the globe, as China ramped up warnings against it and the United States insisted that “we will not be intimidated.”
Pelosi departed from Malaysia on Tuesday evening, matching reports from Taiwan’s media that she would arrive on the island Tuesday night, local time. At around 9 p.m., Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building, light up with bilingual messages welcoming Pelosi to Taiwan. By that point, so many people were following her presumed flight online that the flight tracking site Flightradar24 warned of “extremely heavy load” on their website that was causing issues for some users.
Also on Tuesday evening, the website for Taiwan’s presidential office was taken offline. A spokesperson later announced that a DDOS cyberattack had been responsible and said the outage had lasted just 20 minutes before access was restored. However, both the presidential office website and the website of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs remained intermittently offline throughout Tuesday evening.
On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby emphasized that U.S. congressional visits to Taiwan are routine. “Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.
He also emphasized that “nothing has changed – nothing has changed – about our One China policy… We have said — and we have repeatedly said — that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We have said that we do not support Taiwan independence. And we have said that we expect cross-Strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.”
“…Nothing about this potential visit…would change the status quo,” Kirby summed up. “And the world should reject any PRC effort to use it to do so.”
China’s leaders, however, clearly view the United States’ Taiwan policy as undergoing an evolution, with more frequent and increasingly higher-level visits. Coming in a vacuum, Pelosi’s trip would perhaps not have sparked such a strong response. But it follows amid increasingly vocal signals of U.S. support to Taiwan. China has been at pains to push back against this approach, with officials dedicating more and more time in their interactions with U.S. counterparts to issuing warnings about Taiwan. A Chinese commentator writing for The Diplomat called U.S. Taiwan policy “the most dangerous issue in the China-U.S. strategic competition.”
Beijing apparently wanted to draw a hard line in the sand in an attempt to force the U.S. to rethink its incremental deepening of exchanges with Taiwan. Thus far, none of the high-level visits of the past two years – including numerous congressional delegations, as well as a high-ranking State Department official and a Cabinet secretary – has sparked a major reaction from China. Beijing sent strong signals that would not be the case this time.
“We want to once again make it clear to the US side that the Chinese side is fully prepared for any eventuality and that the People’s Liberation Army of China will never sit idly by, and we will make resolute response and take strong countermeasures to uphold China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters on Monday.
Immediately after Pelosi’s plane landed, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a lengthy pre-written statement condemning the visit as a “grave attack on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations” and “a grave infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” It accused the United States of breaking its longstanding commitment to pursue only unofficial exchanges with Taiwan.
“The Taiwan issue is the most important, most core, and most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations,” the statement said. “At the moment, the situation in the Taiwan Strait is facing a new round of tensions and severe challenges. The fundamental reason is that the authorities on Taiwan and the U.S. side are endlessly changing the status quo.” Specifically, the statement accused Taiwan’s government of pursuing a gradual course toward independence, and accused the U.S. of “constantly distorting and hollowing out the One China principle.” (Note that the United States has never actually accepted the One China principle, but instead holds to a One China policy, which effectively acknowledges Beijing’s claims over Taiwan without actually recognizing or legitimizing those claims.)
Ahead of Pelosi’s visit, China announced that it would conduct live ammunition firing drills on its east coast, just across the Taiwan Strait. China also reportedly deployed two of its aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, on July 31 and August 1, while the U.S. carrier Ronald Reagan was also in the general area as of Tuesday. Before Pelosi’s flight landed, Chinese military aircraft and naval vessels “squeezed” the median line in the Taiwan Strait, in what a source told Reuters was a “very provocative” move.
Just as Pelosi’s plane was landing in Taiwan, Chinese state media reported that “China’s Su-35 fighter jets are crossing the Taiwan Straits.” China’s military also announced “important military exercises and training activities including live-fire drills” in a number of areas encircling Taiwan, to be held Thursday through Sunday.