U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday, escalating tensions with Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as its own territory.
The plane carrying Pelosi and her delegation left from a Malaysian air force base after a brief stopover that included a lunch meeting with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, an official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release details to the media.
"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," Pelosi said in a statement. “Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan – and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. The United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo.”
Pelosi is on an Asian tour this week.
China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary, has repeatedly warned of retaliation if Pelosi visits, saying its military will “never sit idly by.”
“The U.S. and Taiwan have colluded to make provocations first, and China has only been compelled to act out of self-defense,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday in Beijing.
Hua said China has been in constant communication with the U.S. and made clear “how dangerous it would be if the visit actually happens.” Any countermeasures China take will be “justified and necessary" in the face of Washington's “unscrupulous behavior," she said.
China’s military threats have driven concerns of a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the two sides, that could roil global markets and supply chains.
The White House on Monday decried Beijing's rhetoric, saying the U.S. has no interest in deepening tensions with China and “will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling.”
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby underscored that the decision on whether to visit Taiwan was ultimately Pelosi’s. He noted that members of Congress have routinely visited the island over the years.
Kirby said administration officials are concerned that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, or flying sorties into the island’s airspace and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.
“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also urged China to “act responsibly."
“If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of a crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. “We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”
U.S. officials have said the U.S. military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region if Pelosi visits Taiwan. U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were in the Philippine Sea on Monday, according to officials.