U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (L) spoke to reporters with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (R) during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday. Pelosi visited the island despite strong warnings of military action from China. Photo courtesy of Taiwan Presidential Office/EPA-EFE
Aug. 3 (BP) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in a high-stakes visit Wednesday, vowing that Washington will not “abandon our commitment” to Taipei, while a furious China responded with nearby combat exercises and economic sanctions against the democratic island.
“Now more than ever, America solidarity with Taiwan is crucial,” Pelosi said while receiving Taiwan’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Propitious Clouds, from Tsai.
“Today, our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear: we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan, and we’re proud of our enduring friendship,” she said.
Pelosi and a bipartisan congressional delegation arrived in Taipei late Tuesday night despite weeks of angry warnings against the trip from Beijing, which conducted combat drills near the island before and during her visit.
The California Democrat became the first House speaker to visit since Republican Newt Gingrich met then-President Lee Teng-hui in 1997.
Pelosi said Wednesday that China, which has worked to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and block it from joining international organizations, cannot stop officials from visiting.
“I just hope that it’s really clear that while China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating and going to certain meetings, that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan,” she said at a press briefing after a meeting with Tsai.
Beijing announced Tuesday night that it was launching a series of “targeted military operations” around Taiwan, including joint naval and air force training exercises, live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait and missile tests in the waters off the east coast of the island.
The military’s Eastern Theater Command said Wednesday that it conducted “actual combat joint exercises” involving its navy, air force and rocket force during the delegation’s visit.
Taipei has “closely monitored and strengthened its alerts, and will respond appropriately in time,” its defense ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
China’s exercises “are an attempt to threaten our important ports and urban areas and unilaterally undermine regional peace and stability,” the ministry said.
“This move will not help China’s international image,” it added.
Beijng also retaliated economically, restricting imports on items including citrus fruits and frozen mackerel from Taiwan and banning the export of natural sand, the country’s Taiwan Affairs Office announced Wednesday.
China views Taiwan as a wayward province that it has vowed to retake by force, if necessary.
Washington’s concerns over Beijing’s intentions have grown in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. China has ratcheted up military provocations against Taiwan over the past several months, and ahead of Pelosi’s arrival on Tuesday flew 21 Chinese warplanes, including more than a dozen fighter jets, through the island’s air defense identification zone.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pelosi met with members of Taiwan’s parliament and praised the self-governing island of 23 million for being “one of the freest societies in the world.”
She said that new legislation to strengthen the U.S. semiconductor industry in order to better compete with China will offer “greater opportunity for U.S.-Taiwan economic cooperation.
Taiwan’s President Tsai on Wednesday thanked Pelosi and the delegation for visiting “under such challenging circumstances” and called the trip “a demonstration of unwavering support to the people of Taiwan.”
“The speaker’s presence here in Taiwan serves to boost public confidence in the strength of our democracy as a foundation to our partnership with the United States,” she said.
“Military exercises are unnecessary responses,” Tsai added, referring to China. “Taiwan has always been open to constructive dialogue.”