House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan late Tuesday, a rare U.S. congressional visit to the island that drew a sharp rebuke from China and sparked debate locally and nationally.
Pelosi was greeted by officials that included Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, and Sandra Oudkirk, the top U.S. representative in Taiwan, according to Reuters. In a statement shortly after arriving in Taiwan, Pelosi voiced “solidarity” with the self-governing but politically contested island, framing the visit as part of a larger global struggle between autocracy and democracy.
Our visit reiterates that America stands with Taiwan: a robust, vibrant democracy and our important partner in the Indo-Pacific. pic.twitter.com/2sSRJXN6ST— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) August 2, 2022
Advisors to President Joe Biden had cautioned against the trip, with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly telling Biden in a phone call that “those who play with fire will eventually get burned.” Taiwan’s political status is among the most sensitive issues in U.S.-China relations, with China viewing the island as part of its territory under the “One China” policy. The U.S. has long acknowledged—but not endorsed—that policy.
Pelosi is the first high-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich traveled there in 1997. China rebuked Pelosi’s visit upon her arrival, saying that the trip has a “severe” impact on the foundation of U.S.-China relations.
In a tweet, Taiwan foreign minister Wu welcomed and thanked the U.S. delegation.
Welcome to #Taiwan, @SpeakerPelosi! Thank you & the congressional delegation for traveling all the way to show your support. JW pic.twitter.com/Al97hB68aa— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) August 2, 2022
Pelosi’s trip angered some anti-war protestors in San Francisco, who staged a demonstration outside the federal building in San Francisco on Monday. Members of the pro-diplomacy group Pivot to Peace and the women’s social justice organization CODEPINK said the trip would inflame tensions between the U.S. and China, potentially leading to a military conflict. A small group of counter-protesters accused the larger anti-war group of supporting China’s communist government.
Wellington Tzou, president of the San Francisco-based Taiwanese American Citizens League, a national nonprofit, said he personally supports the visit as a sign of deepening ties between Taiwanese and U.S. leaders, but is wary of escalating tensions.
"It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for us, with the fears of what could potentially happen. We do always strive for a peaceful resolution, and hopefully that continues on with with more direct lines for conversation rather than threats,” said Tzou.
Other government and business leaders applauded Pelosi's visit as a gesture that may reverberate widely. Despite the Biden administration's misgivings, the trip drew bipartisan support in Washington.
"It's so important that the United States shows up for their friends; it's important for Taiwan and the rest of the world to see that," said Keith Krach, former CEO of SF-based Docusign and a former U.S. Under Secretary of State who specialized in commerce issues in Asia. "There's nothing that scares the heck out of [Xi Jinping] more than a united United States."
In an op-ed on Tuesday, Pelosi outlined her reasons for making the visit, which had been widely reported but not confirmed until shortly before her arrival on Tuesday.
Writing in the Washington Post, Pelosi drew links between China’s growing aggression towards Taiwan and the Russian war in Ukraine, noting that the trip was part of America’s “commitment to democracy” and a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Pelosi cited China’s ramp-up of military aircraft near Taiwan and cyberattacks on Taiwanese government agencies that she described as a possible precursor to an invasion of the island.
Annie Gaus can be reached at [email protected]