U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday after touting its democracy and pledging American solidarity during her brief visit, adding that Chinese anger cannot stop world leaders from travelling to the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.
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 U.S. 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.
A long-time China critic, especially on human rights, and a political ally of U.S. President Joe Biden, Pelosi met with a former Tiananmen activist, a Hong Kong bookseller who had been detained by China and a Taiwanese activist recently released by China.
The last U.S. House speaker to go to Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997. Pelosi’s visit comes amid sharply deteriorating U.S.-Chinese relations. During the past quarter century, China has become a far more powerful economic, military and geopolitical force.
China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring it under its control. The United States and the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations warned China against using the visit as a pretext for military action against Taiwan.
“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 issued after her departure.
“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,” Pelosi added.