House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan’s capital of Taipei on Tuesday

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei on Tuesday for a contentious stop on her tour of Asian nations, which has become a flashpoint amid escalating tensions between the United States and China.

Pelosi and other members of Congress descended Tuesday evening from a U.S. military plane that landed in Taipei, where they were met by a cadre of Taiwanese authorities. According to the flight monitoring website FlightAware, the plane’s route from Kuala Lumpur skirted the South China Sea and the Chinese mainland.

Pelosi’s travel to Taiwan has been shrouded in secrecy and has enraged Beijing, which has raised the possibility of a military response. The White House has said that it had no influence over Pelosi’s choice to visit the island and that U.S. policy toward Taiwan and the Chinese government has not changed.

Pelosi, the second-in-line for the president, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island in the last quarter-century. In 1991, the California Democrat defied Chinese authorities by displaying a pro-democracy flag in Tiananmen Square.

Pelosi said in a statement issued immediately after the aircraft arrived that the purpose of her trip was to celebrate “America’s steadfast commitment to supporting Taiwan’s flourishing democracy.”

“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,” she said. “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.”

The speaker highlighted that the visit “in no way violates traditional U.S. policy” toward Taiwan and China, and said that the U.S. “continues to reject unilateral actions to alter the status quo.”

Pelosi attacked Beijing’s activities in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and throughout the mainland in an opinion piece for The Washington Post, stating that China’s “abysmal human rights record and disdain for the rule of law persist as President Xi Jinping tightens his hold on power.”

Pelosi is expected to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen and members of the legislature in Taipei, according to a Taiwanese government official. It is anticipated that the U.S. delegation would spend Tuesday night in the capital and attend discussions throughout Wednesday’s day before leaving.

Taipei 101, the highest structure on the island, displayed signs welcoming Pelosi to the city before to her arrival Tuesday evening.

Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of China, and Chinese officials have warned that Pelosi’s visit would be seen as a significant provocation.

China’s Ministry of Defense said that the People’s Liberation Army will soon conduct military exercises surrounding Taiwan, including “long-range live ammunition shooting in the Taiwan Strait” and “frequent guided fire testing in the eastern seas of Taiwan Island.” According to a ministry statement, the drill was intended to be “a solemn deterrence against the recent massive escalation of the hostile acts of the United States on the Taiwan problem, and a stern warning to the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces pursuing ‘independence’.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping insisted that Pelosi postpone the trip during a two-hour phone discussion with President Biden last week. Mr. Biden said in early July that U.S. military authorities believed it was “not a smart idea” for Pelosi to visit Taiwan at this time.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, a destroyer, and an amphibious assault ship were in the seas east of Taiwan performing regular operations, according to a U.S. Navy official on Tuesday.

According to Reuters, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday that if Pelosi visited, China’s military would “not sit quietly by.” Lijan said at a daily briefing that a visit by the “No. 3 official of the U.S. government” would have “extreme political repercussions.”

John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, confirmed on Monday that Nancy Pelosi was flying aboard a U.S. military aircraft and that she had been briefed on Taiwan.

“There have been direct conversations with the speaker and her staff before she left at various levels in the national security establishment,” Kirby said, though he did not confirm any plans by her to travel to Taiwan. “The president did not speak directly with the speaker about this trip.”

Kirby said, “The speaker makes her own judgments” when asked whether the military still felt she should not travel. Kirby continued, “We provided her with context, analysis, facts, and information so that she could make the best choice possible at each stop on her international travels.”

However, Kirby warned of China’s “saber rattling,” including possible military provocations such as the launch of missiles into the Taiwan Strait and a large-scale incursion into Taiwan’s airspace. In addition, he noted diplomatic escalations, such as Beijing’s declaration last week that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway.

“Some of these actions would continue concerning trend lines that we’ve seen in recent years, but some could be of a different scope and scale,” Kirby said. “Last time Beijing fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait was 1995 and 1996 after Beijing reacted provocatively to Taiwan’s president’s visit to deliver an address at his alma mater.”

In 1949, when Chinese nationalists fled to the island during a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party, the rift between Taiwan and the government on the mainland started. The Taiwanese government views itself as China’s legitimate government. Beijing considers the island to be a renegade state and part of its own territory.

Following a strategy of “strategic ambiguity,” the U.S. acknowledged Beijing as the legitimate Chinese government in 1979 and did not favor Taiwanese independence, but maintains informal connections with the administration. The Taiwan Travel Act of 2018 made the connection between the United States and Taiwan official, albeit below the threshold of full diplomatic ties.

Pelosi is not the first speaker of the House to go to Taiwan. Former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich visited in 1997. Other American leaders have made low-key trips to Taiwan to demonstrate their support for the island, but Pelosi’s trip has drawn significantly more attention.

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