World

Pelosi in Taiwan says world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left Taiwan after a visit that heightened tensions with China, saying Wednesday that she and other members of Congress in her delegation showed they will not abandon their commitment to the self-governing island.

As Pelosi's visit ends, China set to conduct live-fire drills near the island

Speaker of the U.S. House Of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, left, poses for photographs after receiving the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon, Taiwan’s highest civilian honour, from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, at the president's office on Wednesday in Taipei, Taiwan. (Chien Chih-Hung/Office of The President/Getty Images)

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left Taiwan after a visit that heightened tensions with China, saying Wednesday that she and other members of Congress in her delegation showed they will not abandon their commitment to the self-governing island.

Pelosi, the first U.S. speaker to set foot on the island in more than 25 years, courted Beijing's wrath and set off more than a week of debate over whether the visit was a good idea after news of it leaked. In Taipei, Taiwan's capital city, she remained calm but defiant.

"Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy," she said in a short speech during a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. "America's determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad."

Pelosi arrived at a military base in South Korea on Wednesday evening ahead of meetings with political leaders in Seoul, after which she will visit Japan. Both countries are U.S. alliance partners, together hosting about 80,000 American personnel as a bulwark against North Korea's nuclear ambitions and China's increased assertiveness in the South China and East China seas.

China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments, announced multiple military exercises around the island, parts of which will enter Taiwanese waters, and issued a series of harsh statements after the delegation touched down Tuesday night in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.

Taiwan decried the planned actions, saying they violated the island's sovereignty.

"Such an act equals to sealing off Taiwan by air and sea, such an act covers our country's territory and territorial waters, and severely violates our country's territorial sovereignty," Capt. Jian-chang Yu said at a briefing by the National Defence Ministry.

China military drills set for Thursday

The Chinese military exercises, including live-fire, will start Thursday and will be the largest aimed at Taiwan since 1995, when China fired missiles in a large-scale exercise to show its displeasure at a visit by then-Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui to the U.S.

Taiwanese President Tsai responded firmly Wednesday to Beijing's military intimidation.

"Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down," Tsai said at her meeting with Pelosi. "We will firmly uphold our nation's sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defence for democracy."

WATCH | Pelosi's Taiwan visit triggers fiery Chinese response:

U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit triggers fiery Chinese response

2 months ago
Duration 3:51
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the first high-ranking American official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. The trip triggered a fiery response from China, including live fire military drills surrounding Taiwan.

In Washington, John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said Wednesday that the U.S. was anticipating more military drills and other actions from China in coming days as the country's armed forces "flex their muscles."

Still, "we don't believe we're at the brink now, and there's certainly no reason for anybody to be talking about being at the brink going forward," Kirby said on ABC's Good Morning America.

U.S.-China tensions

Pelosi's trip has heightened U.S.-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress because of her high-level position as leader of the House of Representatives. She is the first speaker of the House to visit Taiwan in 25 years, since Newt Gingrich in 1997. However, other members of Congress have visited Taiwan in the past year.

Tsai, thanking Pelosi for her decades of support for Taiwan, presented the speaker with a civilian honour, the Order of the Propitious Clouds.

Pelosi leaves the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's house of parliament, on Wednesday in Taipei, Taiwan. Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday as part of a tour of Asia aimed at reassuring allies in the region. (Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)

China's response has been loud and has come on multiple fronts: diplomatic, economic and military.

Shortly after Pelosi landed Tuesday night, China announced live-fire drills that reportedly started that night, as well as the four-day exercises starting Thursday.

The People's Liberation Army Air Force also flew a contingent of 21 war planes Tuesday night, including fighter jets, toward Taiwan. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng also summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, Nicholas Burns, to convey the country's protests the same night.

Taiwan has bipartisan support, Pelosi says

Pelosi addressed Beijing's threats Wednesday morning, saying she hopes it's clear that while China has prevented Taiwan from attending certain international meetings, "that they understand they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan as a show of friendship and of support."

She noted that support for Taiwan is bipartisan in Congress and praised the island's democracy. She stopped short of saying that the U.S would defend Taiwan militarily, emphasizing that Congress is "committed to the security of Taiwan, in order to have Taiwan be able to most effectively defend themselves."

Her focus has always been the same, she said, going back to her 1991 visit to Beijing's Tiananmen Square, when she and other lawmakers unfurled a small banner supporting democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters at the square. That visit was also about human rights and what she called dangerous technology transfers to "rogue countries."

Pelosi visited a human rights museum in Taipei that details the history of the island's martial law era and met with some of Taiwan's most prominent rights activists, including an exiled former Hong Kong bookseller who was detained by Chinese authorities, Lam Wing-kee.

Biden sought to tone down visit

Pelosi, who is leading the trip with five other members of Congress, also met with representatives from Taiwan's legislature.

Pelosi's Asia tour also included stops in Singapore and Malaysia. She arrived Wednesday evening at a South Korea military base ahead of meetings with political leaders in Seoul, after which she will visit Japan. 

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to tone down the volume on the visit to Taiwan, insisting there's no change in America's longstanding "one-China policy," which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei.

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