After weeks of silence ahead of a high-stakes visit to Taiwan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was anything but understated on Wednesday during a day of high-profile meetings, in which she offered support for Taiwan and irked China.
Ms. Pelosi met with Taiwanese lawmakers and then with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, offering strident assurances of United States support for the island democracy that China claims as its own. In the whirlwind day of events, she was welcomed by crowds of supporters waving banners and followed by the news media and protesters, her closely tracked meetings and movements streamed partly online.
In her wake, she left a crisis, setting the stage for new brinkmanship between China and the United States over power and influence in Asia. Taiwan is now bracing for Beijing to begin live-fire military drills on Thursday, an escalation without recent historical precedent that could encircle the island and drop missiles into seas only 10 miles from its coast.
“Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Ms. Pelosi said during a meeting with Taiwan’s president. “America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.”
The meetings, though light on substance, were widely welcomed in Taiwan as a symbolic victory. Ms. Pelosi’s trip was a rare moment when a major foreign power publicly showed support for the island in the face of vehement opposition from China. Ms. Pelosi made the trip despite discouragement from President Biden, manufacturing a historical moment when she became the highest-ranking member of the United States government to visit the island in 25 years.
The events presented an affront to China. Ms. Pelosi, who headed to South Korea late Wednesday afternoon, solidified U.S. support, praised Taiwan’s handling of Covid and met with human rights leaders, all while reinforcing that even if Beijing could isolate Taiwan, it could not stop American leaders from traveling there.
She also brought economic pledges, calling a trade deal between Taiwan and the United States hopefully imminent and holding a cordial meeting with the chairman of the Taiwan chip giant T.S.M.C. Arguably one of the most geopolitically important companies in the world, T.S.M.C. has been courted by U.S. officials hoping to increase domestic production of microchips.
The trip took place against the backdrop of increasingly heated warnings from Beijing. Along with the military drills, a series of hacks hit Taiwan government websites. And China used its status as Taiwan’s largest trading partner to lash out, announcing new trade curbs on Wednesday, including suspensions on imports of some fruit and fish and a ban exports of sand, a key building material.
Ms. Pelosi’s visit may also damage a push by the White House to shore up support against China from key allies in the region who analysts say have felt sidelined by the trip, and frustrated by the spiraling tensions.
As Ms. Pelosi toured Taipei, the capital, at times an almost carnival atmosphere followed. But the mood was far more menacing across the strait separating China from Taiwan, creating the real potential for a military showdown. China’s live-fire drills would mark a direct challenge to what Taiwan defines as its coastline and territorial waters. Coordinates for the drills indicated they could take place closer than previous tests during a standoff 26 years ago.
On Wednesday, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, also said that more punishments for the United States and Taiwan would follow from Ms. Pelosi’s visit.
“As for the specific countermeasures, what I can tell you is that they’ll include everything that should be included,” Ms. Hua said, according to People’s Daily. “The measures in question will be firm, vigorous and effective, and the U.S. side and Taiwan independence forces will continue feeling them.”