Nancy Pelosi, the third most senior figure in the US Government, has landed in Taiwan sparking fury from China which has labelled the trip as “extremely dangerous” adding “those who play with fire will perish by it”.
Ms Pelosi landed at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, at about 10.45pm local time on Tuesday (12.45am AEST on Wednesday). She was seen descending from the plane and talking to local officials.
The speaker of the US House of Representatives said her visit demonstrated America’s “unwavering commitment” to Taiwan’s democracy – a reference to China’s lack of democracy.
At the same time, Chinese media reported that Su-35 fighter jets had been sent across the Taiwan Strait towards the island – although Taiwan said that never actually happened. China has now said it will conduct “live fire” exercises around Taiwan this week.
Ms Pelosi is the highest ranking US politician to visit Taiwan since then House speaker Newt Gingrich landed on the island in 1997.
Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, is a self-governed democratic nation. But Beijing considers the island of 23 million people as its territory – to be seized one day, by force if necessary.
The Chinese government views any official visits to Taiwan by senior politicians from other countries as a provocation.
The US government recognises the “one China” policy that Beijing is the legitimate government of China and it only has official diplomatic relations with it and not Taipei. But the US states it also has a “robust unofficial” relationship with Taiwan and supports it remaining free from Beijing.
A US air force plane transporting Ms Pelosi to Taiwan left Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia at 3.42pm local time.
Her Boeing 737 flew an indirect route from Malaysia towards Taiwan over Indonesia and international airspace close to the Philippines while studiously avoiding the South China Sea, which China also claims as its own.
Both US and Chinese military planes were within the vicinity of the jet.
Trip shows US commitment to democracy
Ms Pelosi’s trip is expected to include a visit to Taiwan’s parliament and a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen. She will likely leave the island on Wednesday afternoon.
Taipei 101, Taiwan’s largest skyscraper was lit up with messages welcoming Ms Pelosi.
In a statement from Ms Pelosi after she landed, the speaker said her trip “honours America’s unwavering commitment to support Taiwan’s vibrant democracy.”
“America’s solidarity with Taiwan is more important today than ever as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
She added that her trip, “in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, US-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances.”
Ms Pelosi is currently on a trip visiting leaders in Asia. Taiwan was not included on the itinerary of her trip but was widely expected.
China responds with fury to visit
On Monday, China warned that it would take some kind of unspecified action if Ms Pelosi – who is third in the line of presidential succession – stepped foot in Taiwan.
“We once again sternly warn the US side that China stands at the ready and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will never sit idly by,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry told reporters in Beijing.
“China will take resolute and vigorous countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Just after Ms Pelosi landed the PLA said it would “conduct important military exercises and training activities including live-fire drills” around Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday.
It released a map showing six regions where the exercises would take place, many close to Taiwan’s shore. It warned ships and aircraft to stay out of the exercise zones.
On Tuesday night, China’s foreign ministry issued a furious statement where it said the visit was a “serious violation of the one-China principle”.
“It gravely undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sends a seriously wrong signal to the separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence’”.
“These moves, like playing with fire, are extremely dangerous. Those who play with fire will perish by it.”
The statement added that the US should stop “meddling” in Taiwan which is a “internal affair of China”.
Trip could ‘trigger civil war’
Victor Gao, a pro-Beijing one time adviser to former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping told Sky News UK Ms Pelosi’s trip “damages US-China relations”.
“This is not a peaceful trip by any measurement.
“The US military and the Chinese military are being antagonised against each other. She is the troublemaker-in-chief in the world.
“Nancy Pelosi’s visit does not help with the peaceful reunification [of Taiwan and China] – it could trigger a civil war.
“Nancy Pelosi’s visit may, ironically, speed up the reunification process.
“This will happen. And I hope Nancy Pelosi lives to see that day.”
Mr Gao added that he wouldn’t be surprised if China announced sanctions against Ms Pelosi and her travelling party.
US President Joe Biden said last week that the US military was opposed to Ms Pelosi’s trip. But it didn’t stop the trip from going ahead.
In a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, Mr Biden said Congress was a separate branch of the government and “Speaker Pelosi makes her own decision”.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Monday said Ms Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan did not warrant the recent threats by the Chinese government.
“We shouldn’t be as a country — we shouldn’t be intimidated by that rhetoric or those potential actions,” Kirby told CNN.
Taiwan’s people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion but the threat has intensified under Mr Xi.
The US maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether it would militarily intervene were China to invade.
While it diplomatically recognises Beijing over Taipei, it also backs Taiwan’s democratic government and opposes any forced change to the island’s status.
American officials often make discreet visits to Taiwan to show support but a Pelosi trip would be higher-profile than any in decades.
Read related topics:China