The US subscribes to the One China policy – and therefore does not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but still maintains unofficial ties and champions the island’s commitment to democracy.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has seen China launch live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, block Taiwanese imports and summon the US ambassador.
This week Nancy Pelosi became the first US House Speaker to travel to the island since Newt Gingrich did 25 years ago.
As she met Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-Wen in Taipei, the senior Democrat claimed the world “faces a choice between democracy and autocracy” and pledged continued US support of the self-declared nation in contrast to Xi Jinping’s increasingly hostile stance on the West.
But despite his repeated promises to defend Taiwan if China invaded, even President Joe Biden condemned Ms Pelosi’s decision to go.
Why is Taiwan caught in the middle of China and the West?
An island of 23 million people, 112 miles off the coast of China, Taiwan declares itself an independent, democratic country with its own leader, constitution, political system and military.
But with territorial claims to the island that date back all the way to 229AD, the Communist Party in Beijing sees it as a breakaway province of China that will eventually come back under its control – by force if necessary.
This is known as the One China principle – a diplomatic acknowledgment that Beijing is the only legitimate ruling power in China.
Technically the US subscribes to a version of that – a One China policy – and therefore does not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, in line with the United Nations. But it still maintains unofficial ties and champions the island’s commitment to democracy.