More than 20 Chinese military planes flew over Taiwan’s air defense zone on Tuesday, Taipei officials said, as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began her controversial visit to the self-governing island, which Beijing considers its territory.
The island’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Twitter: “21 PLA aircraft … entered the ADIZ southwest of #Taiwan on August 2, 2022,” referring to the Air Defense Identification Zone.
ADIZ is not the same as Taiwan’s territorial airspace, but covers a large area that overlaps with part of China’s own air defense identification zone and even includes some of the mainland.
Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday evening, defying ever-increasing warnings and threats from China, which has heightened tensions between the world’s two superpowers.
Second in the presidency, she is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and Beijing has made it clear that it regards her presence as a major provocation, putting the region on edge. Is placed.
The live broadcast showed the 82-year-old lawmaker being greeted at Taipei’s Songshan airport by Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, who took off on a US military plane.
“Our delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” he said in a statement upon his arrival, adding that his visit was “in no way an American commitment to Taiwan and Beijing.” is not contrary to policy”.
Taiwan said the visit displayed “rock solid” support from Washington.
Pelosi is currently on a tour of Asia and while neither he nor his office confirmed the trip to Taipei, several US and Taiwanese media outlets reported it was on the cards – triggering days of growing anger from Beijing. was.
China’s military said it was on “high alert” and would “launch a series of targeted military actions” in response to the visit.
It immediately announced plans for a series of military exercises in the waters around the island starting Wednesday, including “long-range ammunition shooting” in the Taiwan Strait.
“Those who play with fire will be destroyed by it,” Beijing’s foreign ministry said.
No need for ‘crisis’
China considers self-governing, democratic Taiwan its territory and has vowed to one day seize the island by force if necessary.
It tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and opposes countries that have official exchanges with Taipei.
In a call with US President Joe Biden last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Washington against “playing with fire” on Taiwan.
While the Biden administration is understood to be opposed to a Taiwan stop, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Pelosi was entitled to go wherever she wanted.
“There’s no reason for it to be confrontational. There’s no change in our policy,” he told CNN shortly after Pelosi arrived.
The last speaker of the US House of Representatives to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Kirby reiterated that US policy towards Taiwan was unchanged.
This means support for its self-ruling government, while diplomatically recognizing Beijing on Taipei and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.
Moscow said it was “absolutely in solidarity with China”, calling the prospect of Pelosi’s visit “pure provocation”.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for the Kremlin by destroying Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.
All eyes on Taiwan
Pelosi left Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday after meeting Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri and Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
So many people were tracking the US military plane carrying her on Flightradar that the website said some users experienced outages.
The plane took a winding route that avoided the South China Sea – which Beijing claims – before heading towards the east coast of the Philippines.
Access to the press around Pelosi has been strictly restricted and meetings with officials have been limited to a handful or short of corroborating statements.
Her itinerary includes stops in South Korea and Japan – but the prospect of traveling to Taiwan garnered attention.
The Taipei government remained silent on whether or not she would travel but the news continued to leak.
The capital’s famous Taipei 101 skyscraper lit up with the words “Speaker Pelosi… Thank you” on Tuesday night, an hour before Pelosi’s plane arrived.
‘Trying to punish Taiwan’
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the prospect of invasion, but the threat has intensified under Xi, China’s most outspoken ruler in a generation.
“Beijing should not decide who can visit Taiwan or how the US should negotiate with Taiwan,” Wang Ting-yu, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, told AFP ahead of the visit.
“I think China’s open threat is counter-effective.”
Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the US-based German Marshall Fund think tank, said Beijing was “less likely” to choose war.
“But the likelihood that … (China) will take a series of military, economic and diplomatic actions to show strength and resolve is not insignificant,” she wrote on Twitter.
Taipei’s Agricultural Council said on Tuesday that China has suspended imports of some Taiwanese goods, including some fishery products, tea and honey. The council said China cited regulatory violations.
Pelosi’s possible visit comes ahead of a flurry of military activity across the region that highlights how fiery Taiwan’s issue is.