- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2022

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on Tuesday, capping weeks of intense speculation surrounding her expected stopover despite blunt warnings from Beijing against the trip.

Mrs. Pelosi, who is leading a delegation with five other House Democrats through Asia, arrived in Taipei shortly before 11 p.m. local time.

She is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the self-governing island just over 100 miles off mainland China since then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, more than two decades ago.

Members of the delegation said in a joint statement Tuesday that the visit “honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan‘s vibrant democracy.”

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, Mrs. Pelosi unpacked, in detail, her reasoning for making the landmark passage to Taipei as the sitting speaker.

She recalled the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act more than four decades ago, which she said laid the groundwork for the flourishing economic and diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and Taiwan.

SEE ALSO: Taiwan denies China’s claim that Beijing dispatched jet fighters in response to Pelosi’s visit

She also underscored the “solemn vow by the United States to support the defense of Taiwan.”

“Today, America must remember that vow,” Mrs. Pelosi wrote. “In the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) accelerating aggression, our congressional delegation’s visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom.”

The California Democrat is expected to meet with Taiwanese government officials and others in Taipei on Wednesday, according to several media outlets and people familiar with Mrs. Pelosi‘s itinerary.

“Our discussions with Taiwan leadership will focus on reaffirming our support for our partner and on promoting our shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the lawmakers 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.”

Chinese officials quickly condemned the delegation and announced via China‘s state-run Xinhua News Agency that the People’s Liberation Army would conduct “a series of joint military operations around the Taiwan Island,” including live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait.

“It has a severe impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “China firmly opposes and sternly condemns this, and has made serious demarche and strong protest to the United States.”

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of China and thus its own territory. The government in Taipei, which formally calls itself the Republic of China, is denounced as an illegitimate renegade, not an independent country.

China has warned that the U.S. and Taiwan will face retaliation.

In a statement Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused “some American politicians” of “playing with fire on the issue of Taiwan.” He warned that the U.S. “is bankrupting its national credibility.”

“This will definitely not have a good outcome. … The exposure of America’s bullying face again shows it as the world’s biggest saboteur of peace,” Mr. Wang said.

Chinese officials, who say the visit is the latest in a series of moves by Washington to upend the “One China” policy in place since the Carter administration, have warned that the trip would cause serious harm to already tense bilateral relations.

The White House, which did not take a position on Mrs. Pelosi‘s agenda, denied it would mark any shift in official U.S. policy.

The U.S. officially recognizes Taiwan as part of China and the People’s Republic in Beijing as the legitimate government, while opposing unilateral moves or violent actions to alter the status quo of an effectively independent Taiwan.

Mrs. Pelosi and her fellow lawmakers said the visit “is one of several congressional delegations to Taiwan” and in no way “contradicts longstanding United States policy.”

“The United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo,” the lawmakers said.

Despite the lawmakers’ assurances, however, some critics have accused the speaker of “grandstanding over Taiwan” and threatening to upend the already tenuous peace in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan is not a playground for U.S. politicians,” Lyle Goldstein, director of Asia engagement at Defense Priorities, said in a statement Tuesday. “Perhaps if Rep. Pelosi and other congressional leaders truly understood the related national security risks of direct U.S.-China military conflict, they would be less cavalier in putting Americans into the line of fire.”

“This foolish political stunt is unlikely to cause a war in itself, but it will only accelerate the sad process of sleepwalking into a global and national catastrophe at some unspecified time in the future,” Mr. Goldstein said.

Others, including Republican lawmakers, spoke in support of the delegation from the U.S.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky, said Mrs. Pelosi has “every right to go” and accused China of upending relations in response to the visit.  

“They’re trying to change the status quo through force,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “To hear these people responsible for this aggression complain that Speaker Pelosi’s travel itinerary is provocative is utterly absurd.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican and a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said Mrs. Pelosi “is right to visit Taiwan.”

“The Chinese Communist Party doesn’t control Taiwan or puppet Congress,” he said. “This visit, unlike the administration’s self-deterrence, is an encouraging sign to anyone who wants America to stick with our allies.”

A group of 26 other Republicans in the Senate issued a statement supporting Mrs. Pelosi’s decision and defending the travel as “consistent with the United States’ One China policy.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that Mrs. Pelosi’s visit could pose “disastrous consequences.”

“No matter for what reason Pelosi goes to Taiwan, it will be a stupid, dangerous and unnecessary gamble,” Ms. Hua said. “It is difficult to imagine a more reckless and provocative action.”

After the speaker’s delegation departed for its tour, which also includes stops in Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, China announced Saturday that it would conduct “live-fire exercises” off its coast opposite Taiwan, intensifying fears that Beijing intends to attack the island.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned that the situation could devolve into war.

“We want to once again make it clear to the U.S. side that the Chinese side is fully prepared for any eventuality and that the People’s Liberation Army of China will never sit idly by, and we will make resolute response and take strong countermeasures to uphold China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr. Zhao said.

The U.S. warned that it would increase its military footprint in the region ahead of the delegation’s visit. Several U.S. warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, and the USS Triple, an amphibious assault ship carrying Marine F-35B Lightning II Strike fighters, were operating near Taiwan, U.S. officials said Monday.

Signs that China was serious about escalating its response became clear as Mrs. Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan neared.

Taiwanese officials said Chinese warplanes skirted the line that divides the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning, several outlets reported.

The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense later pulled back the claims, saying its “National Army can fully grasp the dynamics of the sea and airspace around the Taiwan Straits.”

Taiwan’s presidential office said it had been targeted by an “overseas cyber attack” to its website ahead of the speaker’s visit Tuesday evening. The website was restored in less than an hour.

The White House said it expects China to “continue to react over a longer-term horizon,” signaling that the stopover could cast a shadow over U.S.-Chinese relations for the foreseeable future.

“I couldn’t give you a date certain of what that horizon looks like, but we certainly would expect them to react even beyond her trip, including announcing additional large-scale fire exercises,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Mr. Biden acknowledged last month that U.S. military leaders viewed the Taiwan trip as too provocative.

“The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,” he said on July 21 after the first media reports of the trip.

The White House has since refrained from commenting on the trip, noting that the speaker, a longtime critic of China and its human rights record, makes her own travel decisions.

Mr. Kirby reiterated on Tuesday the administration’s stance that the travel is consistent with “long-standing U.S. policy” of “one China.”

He said there is no reason for Beijing to turn the visit into “some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressiveness and military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait.”

“The United States will not see and does not want a crisis,” he said. “We are prepared to manage what Beijing chooses to do.”

David R. Sands contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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