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US Speaker Pelosi arrives in Taiwan to welcoming crowds, China military drills

China called the visit "a major political provocation" and unveiled plans for live-fire war games near Taiwan

By RFA Staff 2022.08.02 -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan late on Tuesday for a visit amid angry denunciations and heightened threats from Chinese officials, who unveiled plans to hold days of military drills in the seas around the self-governing island by China's People's Liberation Army.

In defiance of angry threats from Beijing, Pelosi, the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, flew into Songshan airport near the capital Taipei around 10:45 p.m. local time, part of a congressional delegation trip reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Asian allies.

Hundreds of Taiwanese, as well as Tibetans, gathered at her hotel to welcome the 82-year-old lawmaker, long a staunch critic of Beijing, while a small group of people who favor unification with the mainland and opposed the visit told Pelosi to go home.

"Our Congressional delegation's visit to Taiwan honors America's unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan's vibrant democracy," she said in a statement.

"Our visit is part of our broader trip to the Indo-Pacific — including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan — focused on mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance," Pelosi added.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: "Minister [Joseph]Wu welcomed our faithful #US friends & wished them a superb visit. #Taiwan is not alone!"

Wu tweeted: "Thank you & the congressional delegation for traveling all the way to show your support."

In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry swiftly released an angry statement accusing Pelosi and the U.S. of supporting Taiwan independence. China "has made serious démarche and strong protest" to Washington, it said.

"Since Speaker Pelosi is the incumbent leader of the U.S. Congress, her visit to and activities in Taiwan, in whatever form and for whatever reason, is a major political provocation to upgrade U.S. official exchanges with Taiwan. China absolutely does not accept this, and the Chinese people absolutely reject this," the ministry statement said.

"China will definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the U.S. Speaker's visit. All the consequences arising therefrom must be borne by the U.S. side and the 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces," it added.

The United States does not recognize Taiwan diplomatically as part of a One China Policy demanded by Beijing, but retains close unofficial ties with Taipei and is obligated by law to provide it with defense capabilities. Beijing considers the self-ruling, democratic island a breakaway province, to be united with the mainland by force if necessary, and objects strongly to high-level U.S. visits. The last sitting House speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.

The Communist Party-controlled Global Times tweeted that the PLA will hold "important military drills and training activities, including live-fire drills" in six regions surrounding Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday. Some of the drill zones the newspaper announced appeared to overlap with Taiwan's 12-nautical-mile territorial waters.

The military launched drills on Tuesday before her arrival in Taipei, with state TV calling the war games "a serious deterrent against the recent escalation of negative moves by the United States on the Taiwan issue and a serious warning to the 'independence' forces seeking 'independence.'"

In Washington, national security council spokesman John Kirby said China's announced military drills represent overreaction and escalation he had on Monday warned China against taking.

"We've been very clear that nothing has changed about our One China policy," he told reporters at the White House.

"We've said that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We said we do not support Taiwan independence," Kirby said, describing it as the message delivered in a phone call last week by President Joe Biden to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

"There's no reason ... for Beijing to turn this visit, which is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressiveness and military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait now or beyond her travel," the spokesman said.

To squeeze Taiwan, China has suspended imports from 35 Taiwanese exporters of biscuits and pastries since Monday.

Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) reported on Tuesday that China has listed 2,066 foodstuffs as being subject to "import suspension."

In another probable sign of China's wrath, a number of Taiwan government websites -- including that of the foreign ministry and the Presidential Office -- were hit by hit by distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks Tuesday, an hour before Pelosi was due to land, CNA reported.

In the run up to Pelosi's trip, both China and Taiwan's militaries have been on high-alert in preparation for the visit. Chinese domestic air travel in Fuzhou, across the Taiwan strait from Taiwan, was disrupted on Tuesday, indicating that military flights may be taking place nearby.

Taiwanese civilians have been participating in air raid drills to prepare for a potential attack by China's much larger military.

Some in Washington have questioned the timing and utility of such a trip at a time when U.S.-China relations are at low ebb over longstanding disputes over trade, security, and human rights. President Joe Biden has cited Pentagon concerns about the trip, without expressing his views on Pelosi's plans.

In an op-ed in Washington Post Tuesday, Pelosi lauded Taiwan's domestic governance and international good works and said it was necessary to support Taipei in the face of Chinese intimidation.

"Yet, disturbingly, this vibrant, robust democracy — named one of the freest in the world by Freedom House and proudly led by a woman, President Tsai Ing-wen — is under threat," she wrote.

"In recent years, Beijing has dramatically intensified tensions with Taiwan," wrote Pelosi, who is slated on Wednesday to call on Tsai, address Taiwan's parliament and meet with rights activists before wrapping up her trip.

Taiwan's armed forces operate at two levels of combat readiness for peacetime and wartime, each level comprises several stages. It is understood that the current stage of preparedness is still within the peacetime level but could change.

On Tuesday morning several Chinese military aircraft and warships came close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait - the tacit maritime border between Taiwan and the mainland - Reuters said, quoting an anonymous source.

This move is "unusual" and can be seen as "very provocative," the source was quoted as saying.

Taiwan's defense ministry said the island's military has a "full grasp" of activities near Taiwan and "will appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to enemy threats."

USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea

Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine colonel turned political analyst, said he did not expect China to launch attacks on the U.S. or Pelosi herself. But they could lash out at Taiwan.

"The Chinese Communists are now willing to apply serious pressure-including possible military force-against America's friends and partners, and dare the United States to respond," he told RFA.

"That's what I think we are most likely to see -- and most likely directed against Taiwan. In other words, making the Americans have to take the 'first shot' against the PRC," added Newsham.

While there are many scenarios, "suppose the PRC announced a blockade of Taiwan and even sank a Taiwanese ship or two -- and threatened to strike anyone who interfered -- including the Americans," he said.

UPDATED with comments from the White House and a military analyst.

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