Why Nancy Pelosi went to Taiwan, and why China’s angry

WASHINGTON: When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flew into Taiwan on an Air Force passenger jet on Tuesday (Aug 2), she became the highest-ranking American official in 25 years to visit the self-ruled island. China announced military manoeuvres in retaliation, even as Taiwanese officials welcomed her and she headed to her hotel.

The reason her visit ratcheted up tension between China and the United States: China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and it views visits by foreign government officials as them recognising the island’s sovereignty.

President Joe Biden has sought to calm that complaint, insisting there’s no change in America’s longstanding “one-China policy,” which recognises Beijing but allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei.

Pelosi portrays her high-profile trip as part of a US obligation to stand with democracies against autocratic countries, and with democratic Taiwan against China.

A look at some of the issues at play:

WHY DID PELOSI GO TO TAIWAN?

Pelosi has made a mission over decades of showing support for embattled democracy movements. Those include a trip in 1991 to Tiananmen Square, where she and other lawmakers unrolled a small banner supporting democracy, as frowning Chinese security officers tried to shut them down. Chinese forces had crushed a homegrown democracy movement at the same spot two years earlier.

The speaker is framing her Taiwan trip as part of a broader mission at a time when “the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy”. She led a congressional delegation to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the spring, and her latest effort serves as a capstone to her years of promoting democracy abroad.

“We must stand by Taiwan,” she said in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post on her arrival in Taiwan. She cited the commitment that the US made to a democratic Taiwan under a 1979 law.

“It is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats,” she wrote.

WHAT IS THE US STAND ON TAIWAN?

The Biden administration, and Pelosi, say the United States remains committed to its “one-China policy”.

Taiwan and mainland China split during a civil war in 1949. But China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to take it.

China has been increasing both diplomatic and military pressure in recent years. It cut off all contact with Taiwan’s government in 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse its claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation, with Communist Beijing the sole legitimate government.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as an encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step US leaders say they don’t support.