US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) and Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen wave at the Presidential Office in Taipei. AFP
"Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,â€ she said in a short speech during a meeting with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. "Americaâ€™s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad.â€
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments, announced multiple military exercises around the island and issued a series of harsh statements after the delegation touched down in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, on Tuesday night.
Pelosi's trip has heightened US-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 come to Taiwan in 25 years, since Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Nancy Pelosi and Tsai Ing-wen (centre) pose for a photo during a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, on Wednesday. AP
Tsai, thanking Pelosi for her decades of support for Taiwan, presented the speaker with a civilian honor, the Order of the Propitious Clouds. She was more pointed about Chinese threats in her remarks than Pelosi was.
"Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down,â€ Tsai said. "We will firmly uphold our nationâ€™s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy.â€
Shortly after Pelosi landed, China announced live-fire drills that would start Tuesday night and a four-day exercise beginning Thursday in waters on all sides of the island.
Chinaâ€™s air force also flew a relatively large contingent of 21 war planes, including fighter jets, toward Taiwan.
Pelosi noted that support for Taiwan is bipartisan in Congress and praised the islandâ€™s democracy.