After much ‘will she, won’t she’, United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday offering “unwavering commitment” to supporting its democracy.
The US House speaker, who is on an Asian tour, called the trip as part of a broader mission at a time when “the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) August 2, 2022
“We must stand by Taiwan,” she said in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post on her arrival in Taiwan. She cited the commitment that the US made to a democratic Taiwan under a 1979 law.
“It is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats,” she wrote.
The visit, unsurprisingly, has invited much condemnation from China, magnifying tensions between Washington and Beijing. In fact, Chinese vice foreign minister Xie Feng summoned US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns to protest against Pelosi's visit to Taiwan island. “The nature of Pelosi’s visit is extremely vicious and the consequence is very grave. The Chinese side will not sit idly by,” Xie told Burns, as per a report in China’s state-owned Global Times.
China branded the landmark visit, a first by a senior US politician in 25 years, as “extremely dangerous”.
It also accused Pelosi of “playing with fire”. “Those who play with fire will perish by it,” Beijing warned in a statement.
#Breaking: Chinese State Councilor & Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemns #Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, urging the US to stop interfering in China’s reunification, sabotaging its development, manipulating geopolitical tactics and confusing the right and wrong pic.twitter.com/0sRmjtWRnw
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 3, 2022
Hua Chunying, the foreign ministry spokesperson, also reacted negatively to Pelosi’s visit on Twitter.
SC & FM Wang Yi:the #US has reneged on its commitment on the Taiwan question. This is contemptible and will only further bankrupt the US’s credibility as a country. Certain US politicians care about nothing but selfish gains and openly play with fire on the Taiwan question.
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) August 2, 2022
The highly-anticipated visit has pushed China to a brink and has put the world on alert, as they brace for an international crisis. Here’s Beijing’s first reactions as Pelosi’s US C-40C military aircraft took an indirect route to Taiwan from Malaysia.
Fighter jets and live fire military exercises
Minutes after Pelosi landed, more than 20 Chinese military planes flew into Taiwan’s air defence zone.
The island’s defence ministry said in a statement on Twitter: “21 PLA aircraft ... entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on August 2, 2022,” referring to the air defence identification zone.
The Chinese media confirmed its J-20 stealth jets had taken to the skies around the island, and two of Beijing’s warships — a destroyer and a frigate — are in the seas to the east.
The Global Times reported: “Additional important drills [were] announced for days to come.”
China’s official Xinhua News said the army planned to conduct live-fire drills from 4 August to 7 August across multiple locations. An image released by the news agency indicated that the drills were to take place in six different areas in the waters surrounding Taiwan.
Incidentally, the firing of missiles into the Taiwan Strait would be the first such act since 1995, the last time there was deep concern about the possibility of all-out war.
China’s defence ministry said the “targeted military operations” are designed to “safeguard national sovereignty” in response to Pelosi’s visit.
M Taylor Fravel, director of the MIT Security Studies Program, told Politico the drills appear to be “unprecedented,” noting that they would be “the largest number of exercises to be conducted very close to the island of Taiwan itself, and the first to take place on all sides surrounding Taiwan.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, was quoted as telling the Daily Mail that the hastily announced military exercises, due to last until Sunday, were “unambiguously escalatory” and “the most provocative moves by China in decades (which) would qualify for the United Nations definition of state aggression.”
Tanks roll down
The US House speaker’s visit also prompted Beijing to deploy a convoy of military vehicles from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to Pintang Island, which is about 125 kilometres from Taiwan.
Pictures posted on Chinese social network Weibo appeared to show tanks amassing on the coast of Fujian, the closest point on mainland China to the island.
In bizarre scenes, beachgoers stood watching as dozens of tanks rolled across the sand.
Latest footage circulating on Chinese social media WeChat shows armoured vehicles on the move in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen, as US Speaker Pelosi is reportedly heading to Taipei. pic.twitter.com/ePpJsO2VyM
— Bang Xiao 萧邦 (@BangXiao_) August 2, 2022
Columns of armoured vehicles were also seen moving through the nearby city of Xiamen, and a video posted on state media sites earlier this week showed off Chinese military hardware and urged troops to “be ready to fight upon command, bury all incoming enemies”.
Chinese social media handle “Yin Sura” posted a video clip showing a column of Chinese armoured vehicles on a busy road while they drove past it in a car.
In Fujian right now😯😯 pic.twitter.com/hHxfPTDQEo
— Yin Sura 尹苏拉 (@yin_sura) August 2, 2022
As concerns rose, US national security spokesperson John Kirby said there was “no reason for this visit to become a spurring event for a crisis or conflict”.
He reiterated that the trip was consistent with the US’ long-standing policy towards China and did not violate the country’s sovereignty.
Biden administration officials have emphasised in recent days that the United States official position on Taiwan remains unchanged and that Pelosi would be one of many members of Congress that have visited Taiwan over the past few years. The White House said that it has no interest in escalating tensions with China and that it “will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling.”
“We don’t support Taiwan independence, but we absolutely do support the right and the prerogative of congressional leaders to include Speaker Pelosi to visit Taiwan if that’s what she wants to do,” Kirby said on CNN after Pelosi touched down in Taiwan on Tuesday.
With inputs from agencies