Nancy Pelosi attends a meeting with Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei on Wednesday. AP / Reuters / AFP
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left Taiwan after a visit that heightened tensions with China, saying pm Wednesday that she and other members of Congress in her delegation showed they will not abandon their commitment to the self-governing island.
Pelosi said that Chinese anger cannot stop world leaders from travelling to the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.
Pelosi, the first US speaker to visit the island in more than 25 years, courted Beijing's wrath with the visit and set off more than a week of debate over whether it was a good idea after news of it leaked. In Taipei she remained calm but defiant.
"Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,â€ she said in a short speech during a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
"Americaâ€™s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad.â€
Nancy Pelosi and Tsai Ing-wen (centre) pose for a photo during a meeting in Taipei. AP
Beijing summoned US ambassador Nicholas Burns over Pelosiâ€™s visit, while the Chinese military declared it was on â€œhigh alertâ€ and would â€œlaunch a series of targeted military actions in responseâ€ to the visit.
Some of Chinaâ€™s planned military exercises were to take place within Taiwanâ€™s 12 nautical mile sea and air territory, according to Taiwanâ€™s defence ministry, an unprecedented move that a senior defence official described to reporters as â€œamounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan.â€
Taiwan scrambled jets on Wednesday to warn away 27 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone, the islandâ€™s defence ministry said, adding that 22 of them crossed the median line separating the island from China.
Pelosi arrived with a congressional delegation on her unannounced but closely watched visit late on Tuesday, defying Chinaâ€™s repeated warnings, on a trip that she said demonstrated unwavering US commitment to Taiwanâ€™s democracy.
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 US 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.
Pelosi arrived with a congressional delegation on her unannounced but closely watched visit late on Tuesday, defying China's repeated warnings, on a trip that she said demonstrated unwavering US commitment to Taiwan's democracy.
"Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear that we will not abandon Taiwan," Pelosi told Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, who Beijing suspects of pushing for formal independence - a red line for China.
"Now, more than ever, America's solidarity with Taiwan is crucial, and that's the message we are bringing here today," Pelosi said during her roughly 19-hour visit.
A long-time China critic, especially on human rights, and a political ally of US President Joe Biden, Pelosi met a former Tiananmen activist, a Hong Kong bookseller who had been detained by China and a Taiwanese activist recently released by China.
China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring it under its control. The United States and the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations warned China against using the visit as a pretext for military action against Taiwan.
"Sadly, Taiwan has been prevented from participating in global meetings, most recently the World Health Organisation, because of objections by the Chinese Communist Party," Pelosi said in statement issued after her departure.
"While they may prevent Taiwan from sending its leaders to global forums, they cannot prevent world leaders or anyone from travelling to Taiwan to pay respect to its flourishing democracy, to highlight its many successes and to reaffirm our commitment to continued collaboration," Pelosi added.
China's customs department announced a suspension of imports of citrus fruits and certain fish - chilled white striped hairtail and frozen horse mackerel â€” from Taiwan, while its commerce ministry banned export of natural sand to Taiwan.
Fury on the mainland over Pelosi's defiance of Beijing was evident in Chinese social media, with one blogger railing: "this old she-devil, she actually dares to come!" Pelosi is 82.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the potential for Pelosi's visit with counterpart Wang Yi during a G20 meeting in Bali last month, and said any such trip would be entirely Pelosi's decision and independent of the Biden administration, a senior US official said on Wednesday.