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Nancy Pelosi ignores China sabre-rattling as she becomes most powerful US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years

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A pro-United States sign is displayed on a tower ahead of Nancy Pelosi's expected visit, in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

A pro-United States sign is displayed on a tower ahead of Nancy Pelosi's expected visit, in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

A pro-United States sign is displayed on a tower ahead of Nancy Pelosi's expected visit, in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

The world held its breath as Nancy Pelosi stepped off the US plane and on to Taipei’s air strip yesterday.

Just hours before, while the US house speaker boarded her flight in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Chinese military held live-fire exercises, seen as an attempt to get her to cancel the unofficial trip to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.

More than 700,000 people tracked the US Air Force-operated Boeing C-40 Clipper, code named “SPAR19”, on Flightradar24. It was the website’s most-tracked flight ever, a sign of how high the stakes were for Ms Pelosi’s visit, following months of tension and government warnings from China and the US.

Ms Pelosi’s trip was originally scheduled for April.

Beijing was quick to issue full-throated warnings against her plans given that she would be the highest-ranking elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

Speculation swirled over whether it would be enough to get her to back down

“If the US insists on having its way, China will take firm and strong measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.

The Chinese government blamed the US for instigating the problem, saying: “All possible consequences that arise from this will completely be borne by the US side.”

It was eventually postponed after she caught Covid. Last month, reports emerged that it was back on for the beginning of August.

As Ms Pelosi’s departure neared – and her office refused to confirm whether she would travel to Taiwan – Beijing’s warnings became increasingly prominent.

Speculation swirled over whether it would be enough to get her to back down.

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To Beijing, a visit by Ms Pelosi – the third in succession to the US presidency – would be a significant public affront.

Threats came all the way from the top. Xi Jinping, leader of China’s ruling Communist Party told Joe Biden, the US president, not to “play with fire” in a rare call between the two leaders. This was not the first time Mr Xi had warned Mr Biden in this manner.

After such public objections, doing nothing would look weak; doing too much could tip the scales of war. “They’re not exactly afraid of hyperbole,” said a former US official.

They added Ms Pelosi’s delayed trip gave China “months to message”.

Confirmation that Ms Pelosi was headed for Asia didn’t come until she was in the air at the weekend. Even then, her overnight stopover in Taiwan was left off the official itinerary, which included Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

But Ms Pelosi is not easily fazed, having defied Beijing multiple times over her decades-long career. In 1991, she unfurled a banner with other American lawmaker colleagues in Tiananmen Square commemorating “those who died for democracy in China”.

Yesterday, Beijing ann­ounced more drills for the coming days, including in the highly sensitive Taiwan Strait, escalating tensions with Washington to the highest in years

The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre – when the Chinese military fired on and killed thousands of peaceful demonstrators – has been erased from history within the mainland, and is considered by authorities as one of China’s most taboo subjects.

What Ms Pelosi’s trip means for US-China relations remains to be seen. She is expected to meet with Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, today.

Yesterday, Beijing ann­ounced more drills for the coming days, including in the highly sensitive Taiwan Strait, escalating tensions with Washington to the highest in years.

However, Ms Pelosi has remained defiant.

“We cannot stand by as the Chinese Communist Party proceeds to threaten Taiwan – and democracy itself,” she wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post, released as she touched down in Taiwan.

“Indeed we take this trip at a time when the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”


Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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