Nancy Pelosi arrives in Taiwan as China puts military on high alert

Nancy Pelosi has landed in Taiwan for a controversial visit to the self-ruled island, offering “unwavering commitment” to supporting its democracy as already heightened tensions with China escalate.

Timed with her arrival, China’s ministry of defence said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been put on “high alert” and announced a series of targeted military operations, including missile tests in the waters east of Taiwan and drills encircling the main island for four days after Pelosi leaves.

China, which regards Taiwan as its territory, has repeatedly warned of retaliation for the visit. Shortly before Pelosi’s arrival, Chinese state media reported that Beijing’s Su-35 fighter jets were flying across the Taiwan strait.

Taipei subsequently dismissed the announcement as “fake news”.

China summoned the US ambassador in Beijing to rebuke him over Pelosi’s “egregious” trip to Taiwan, state media reported on Tuesday night. The deputy foreign minister, Xie Feng, voiced “strong protests” over Pelosi’s visit during his talk with Nicholas Burns.

The US House of Representatives speaker’s plane landed at Songshan airport in Taipei at about 10.45pm local time (17.45 BST) on Tuesday. She was greeted by Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, and the US representative in Taiwan, Sandra Oudkirk, and is expected to meet the president, Tsai Ing-wen, on Wednesday morning.

Pelosi tweeted shortly after her arrival that the visit honoured the US’s “unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy”.

Our delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy.

Our discussions with Taiwan leadership reaffirm our support for our partner & promote our shared interests, including advancing a free & open Indo-Pacific region. — Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) August 2, 2022

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.”

An opinion piece by the House speaker, published by the Washington Post after she landed, said Beijing had intensified tensions with Taiwan and “this vibrant, robust democracy – […] proudly led by a woman, President Tsai Ing-wen – is under threat”. Her article also referenced China’s actions in Hong Kong and Tibet, and a “genocide” against Uyghurs.

She continued: “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.”

Taiwan’s party of government, the Democratic Progressive party, said it admired and respected Pelosi’s “moral courage”.

It said: “No threatening remarks or provocative actions can reduce even slightly the determination of Taiwan and its international friends to defend democracy and freedom.”

Wellwishers gather outside Songshan airport to greet Pelosi as she arrived for the visit. Photograph: Helen Davidson/The Guardian

The visit was also welcomed by the opposition Kuomintang party, which has traditionally favoured friendlier relations with China.

Even before Pelosi left the runway, China’s foreign ministry was posting furiously online. “China firmly opposes separatist moves towards ‘Taiwan independence’ and interference by external forces,” said Hua Chunying, a ministry spokesperson. “The US should give up any attempt to play the Taiwan card.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Hua accused the US of “reckless disregard” and said it would be “held liable and pay the price for hurting China’s sovereignty and security interests”.

In London, the Chinese ambassador voiced his opposition, warning that “those who play with fire will get burnt” echoing a threat by China’s president, Xi Jinping, to Joe Biden last week during their fifth phone call.

The visit appeared to have prompted high levels of military movement and preparations by the Chinese, Taiwanese and US militaries.

The US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (first right) with her delegation arrives in Taiwan and is welcomed by Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu (second left). Photograph: Zuma Press Inc/Alamy Live News

The PLA reportedly moved several warships and planes near the median line – an unofficial border between China and Taiwan in the Taiwan strait.

According to multiple social media posts, it also drove dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles through the Chinese mainland city of Xiamen, which is 3 miles (5km) across the water from Taiwan’s outlying Kinmen Islands.

Taiwan’s defence ministry reportedly increased its military alertness for the next four days and warned it would appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to “enemy threats”.

In a statement, the ministry said it had the “determination, ability and confidence” to ensure Taiwan’s national security, and had made various unspecified plans for an emergency.

Reuters earlier reported that four US warships, including a carrier strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan, were positioned in waters east of the island on “routine” deployments.

A number of analysts said a hostile military act from China is unlikely but that the response was likely to exceed any others seen in recent years.

Demonstrators protest against Pelosi’s visit outside the Grand Hyatt hotel in Taipei. Photograph: Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

Some, including senior Taiwanese figures who spoke on condition of anonymity, expected any significant act to occur after Pelosi departed, to avoid a confrontation with US military assets.

They also noted that a response could include punitive economic action. On Tuesday, Chinese authorities announced a sudden ban on imports from more than 100 Taiwanese food companies.

Taiwan is attempting a balancing act of maintaining the safety of the status quo with China while nurturing international relationships. Taiwanese officials would not comment before Pelosi’s arrival, other than to say it always welcomes visits by foreign friends.

Pelosi is the latest in a long line of foreign delegates to visit Taiwan in recent years, but Beijing took significant exception to her seniority as House speaker and appeared not to believe that the US separation of powers meant Biden had no power to order her not to go.

Pelosi’s flight took a non-direct path from Kuala Lumpur, with a detour over Indonesia and the Philippines, avoiding the South China Sea, to fly in from Taiwan’s east coast. There had been concerns that China might send PLA aircraft to intercept or tail her plane into Taiwanese airspace.

Outside Songshan airport, supporters gathered to welcome Pelosi. Among them was Timothy Lee, who said Pelosi had risked her life to show support for Taiwan. “We should be good hosts,” he said.

Pelosi was later mobbed on arrival at the Grand Hyatt. Hundreds of people gathered outside the hotel and across the road, with supporters and protesters separated by a wide cordon and dozens of police officers. Protesters shouted “Yankee go home” and carried signs calling the speaker a warmonger. The nearby opposing camp responded with “CCP get out”.

Pelosi and Tsai are scheduled to address the media at 10.53am on Wednesday morning, via a pool arrangement without reporters, according to the foreign ministry.