Over several administrations, the congresswoman often held an opinion unpopular among Democratic colleagues, and her posture at times was viewed as unhelpful in U.S.-China relations
“She was very tough. People have always, in my view, underestimated her, especially in those early years,” he added.
Beijing had sent warnings of retaliation ahead of her visit as tensions escalate with the United States, while the Biden administration sent strong suggestions against her visit to the territory, a trip she postponed in April because of a coronavirus infection. Again, Pelosi was undeterred.
“In the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) accelerating aggression, our congressional delegation’s visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
This trip marks the culmination of a 35-year career spent as an outspoken critic of China, even when domestic issues overshadowed her foreign policy work during her decades leading the Democratic caucus. Over several administrations, she often held an unpopular opinion among her Democratic colleagues, several people who worked with her described in conversations with The Post. Her posture was at times viewed as unhelpful by those who saw her persistence as disruptive to U.S.-China relations.
“She’s always rejected this reaction that the many people in the United States have had of, ‘oh, don’t upset the Chinese,’ ” Fiedler said. “She’s not particularly concerned with upsetting the Chinese.”
But this week’s trip to Taiwan also marked a surprising bipartisan moment as Republicans joined congressional Democrats in encouraging Pelosi’s travel, a notable about-face for a party that staunchly categorizes Democrats as weak on the communist country. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and 25 GOP senators released a statement moments after Pelosi landed in Taiwan, lauding her defiance of China.
Those who know her best point to the massacre at Tiananmen Square as the catalyst that sparked Pelosi’s efforts, drawing her in both as a lawmaker representing San Francisco’s prominent Chinese community and as a mother who was pained watching college-age students, like her own children, being persecuted for defending democracy.
“It was the Tiananmen massacre that I think really was the impetus,” said Carolyn Bartholomew, the current U.S.-China economic and security review commissioner and former Pelosi chief of staff. “It was the beginning.”
Pelosi famously visited the square in 1991 where she held that banner, reading “To those who died for democracy in China,” alongside congressmen Ben Jones (D-Ga.) and John Miller (R-Wash.), and surprising Chinese authorities. The banner was given to Pelosi by the Rev. Chu Yiu-ming while he hosted her in Hong Kong, his son Samuel Chu recalled.
Chu, president of the Campaign for Hong Kong, remembers his father’s telling of Pelosi’s return to her Hong Kong hotel after the incident, where she was met by rounds of applause from locals, despite criticism in China for her actions.