U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late Tuesday despite threats of “strong measures” from China.
Pelosi became the highest-level American official to visit the self-ruled island claimed by China in 25 years. The trip could increase tension between the U.S. and China, which claims the island as part of its country.
Pelosi and other lawmakers traveled to Taiwan in a U.S. military airplane. The group landed at Taipei’s airport and was met by Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, and Sandra Oudkirk, the top U.S. representative in Taiwan.
Pelosi is on a trip to Asia that includes announced visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Her stop in Taiwan had not been announced but had been expected.
The speaker said in a statement shortly after landing that the visit was to honor America’s commitment and to support Taiwan. She said, "America's solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy."
Reactions to Pelosi’s visit
China has repeatedly warned of “strong measures” if Pelosi went ahead with the trip.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement that U.S. politicians who "play with fire" on the Taiwan issue will "come to no good end." And China’s Defense Ministry said it would conduct targeted military operations to “safeguard national sovereignty.”
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said earlier on Monday that members of Congress have regularly visited the island over the years. He added, “There is no reason for (China)…to use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait.”
Shortly before Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, Chinese state media said Chinese Su-35 fighter jets were “crossing” the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates mainland China and Taiwan. Reuters news agency reported that several Chinese warships have also sailed near the unofficial dividing line of the strait since Monday and remained there.
A U.S. Navy official told Reuters that four U.S. warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, were in the waters east of Taiwan on what the U.S. Navy called routine deployments.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it observed military activities near Taiwan and that it would send forces if needed to deal with "enemy threats.”
In the capital city of Taipei, two tall buildings are lit up with words of welcome, which said “Welcome to Taiwan, Speaker Pelosi.”
Reasons behind Pelosi’s visit
Pelosi is a long-time critic of China’s human rights records. She was a newly elected lawmaker when Chinese tanks crushed the 1989 pro-democracy student protest in Tiananmen Square. Two years later, she joined other lawmakers at the square with a large sign that read “to those who died for democracy in China.”
In 2009, she hand-delivered a letter to then-President Hu Jintao calling for the release of political prisoners.
On Wednesday, Pelosi will meet with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and human rights activists.
Bonnie Glaser is a Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She told reporters that the damage to U.S.-China relations over Pelosi's visit would be hard to repair.
"We all know how bad this relationship has been in the past year. And I just think that this visit by Nancy Pelosi is just going to take it to a new low," Glaser said. "And I think that it's going to be very difficult to recover from that."
I’m Jill Robbins.
Hai Do adapted this report for VOA Learning English based on reporting from Reuters and The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
commitment –n. a promise to do or give something
solidarity –n. a feeling of unity between people who have the same interests or goals
sovereignty –n. a country's independent authority and the right to govern itself
pretext –n. a reason that is given to hide the real reason for doing something
routine –n. a regular way of doing things
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