TAIPEI: Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen struck a defiant tone Wednesday as she hosted US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with a furious China gearing up for major military exercises around the island in retaliation for the visit.
Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday despite a series of increasingly stark warnings and threats from Beijing, which views the island as its territory and has said it would consider her visit a major provocation.
China responded swiftly, warning the US ambassador in Beijing of “extremely serious consequences” and announcing military drills around Taiwan.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down. We will… continue to hold the line of defence for democracy,” Tsai said at an event with Pelosi in Taipei.
She also thanked Pelosi for “taking concrete actions to show your staunch support for Taiwan at this critical moment”.
China tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and opposes countries having official exchanges with Taipei.
Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
“Today, our delegation… came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan and we are proud of our enduring friendship,” the speaker said at the event with Tsai.
At an earlier event, Pelosi said her delegation had come “in friendship to Taiwan” and “in peace to the region”.
The administration of President Joe Biden said in the run-up to the visit that US policy towards Taiwan remained unchanged.
This means support for its government while diplomatically recognising Beijing over Taipei, and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.
After Pelosi — who is on a tour of Asia — touched down Tuesday night in a military aircraft after days of feverish speculation about her plans, the Chinese foreign ministry summoned US Ambassador Nicholas Burns.
Pelosi’s visit “is extremely egregious in nature and the consequences are extremely serious”, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng told Burns, according to state news agency Xinhua.
“China will not sit idly by.”
The Chinese military said it was on “high alert” and would “launch a series of targeted military actions in response” to the visit.
The drills will include “long-range live ammunition shooting” in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from mainland China and straddles vital shipping lanes.
The zone of Chinese exercises will be within 20 kilometres of Taiwan’s shoreline at some points, according to coordinates released by the Chinese military.
Taiwan’s defence ministry described the drills as “an attempt to threaten our important ports and urban areas, and unilaterally undermine regional peace and stability”.
Tokyo, a key US ally in the region, said Wednesday it had expressed concern to China over the drills, saying the zone used for the exercises overlaps Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
‘We shouldn’t be too worried’
Outside the Taiwanese parliament, 31-year-old computer programmer Frank Chen shrugged off the Chinese warnings against Pelosi’s visit.
“I’m not too worried about China’s intimidation,” he told AFP.
“I think China will take more threatening actions and ban more Taiwanese products, but we shouldn’t be too worried.”
There was a small group of pro-China demonstrators outside parliament as well.
“The United States uses Taiwan as a pawn in its confrontation with China, to try to drag China down so (it) can dominate the world,” Lee Kai-dee, a 71-year-old retired researcher, told AFP.
“If the United States continues to act this way, Taiwan will end up like Ukraine.”
China has vowed to annex self-ruled, democratic Taiwan one day, by force if necessary.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February heightened fears in Taiwan that China may similarly follow through on its threats to annex the island.
Beijing tries to keep the island isolated on the world stage and opposes countries having official exchanges with Taipei.
In a call with Biden last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Washington against “playing with fire” on Taiwan.
While the Biden administration is understood to be opposed to Pelosi’s Taiwan stop, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said she was entitled to go where she pleased.