U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday night despite threats from Beijing of serious consequences, becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the self-ruled island claimed by China in 25 years.
Pelosi’s visit has triggered increased tension between China and the United States. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, to be annexed by force if necessary, and views visits by foreign government officials as recognition of the island’s sovereignty.
China had warned of “resolute and strong measures” if Pelosi went ahead with the trip, but has given no details on what they might be. Speculation has centered on threatening military exercises and possible incursions by Chinese planes and ships into areas under Taiwanese control.
The Biden administration did not explicitly urge Pelosi to call off the visit, while seeking to assure Beijing it would not signal any change in U.S. policy on Taiwan.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington’s betrayal “on the Taiwan issue is bankrupting its national credibility.”
“Some American politicians are playing with fire on the issue of Taiwan,” Wang said in a statement. “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.”
The plane carrying Pelosi and her delegation left Malaysia earlier Tuesday after a brief stop that included a working lunch with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry had declined to comment on whether Pelosi would visit. The trip was not officially announced ahead of time.
Barricades were erected outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei where Pelosi was expected to stay amid heightened security. Two buildings in the capital lit up LED displays with words of welcome, including the iconic Taipei 101 building, which said “Welcome to Taiwan, Speaker Pelosi.”
China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary, has repeatedly warned of retaliation for Pelosi’s visit, 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.
Shortly before Pelosi was due to arrive, Chinese state media said Chinese Su-35 fighter jets were “crossing” the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates mainland China and Taiwan. It wasn’t immediately clear where they were headed or what they planned to do.
Unspecified hackers launched a cyberattack on the Taiwanese Presidential Office’s website, making it temporarily unavailable Tuesday evening. The Presidential Office said the website was restored shortly after the attack, which overwhelmed it with traffic.
“China thinks by launching a multi-domain pressure campaign against Taiwan, the people of Taiwan will be be intimidated. But they are wrong,” Wang Ting-yu, a legislator with the Democratic Progressive Party, said on Twitter in response to the attack.
China’s military threats have driven concerns of a new crisis in the 100-mile (140-kilometer) -wide Taiwan Strait that could roil global markets and supply chains.