BEIJING – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan has drawn bipartisan support at home and backing among the world’s democracies.
Meanwhile, China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory with no right to an independent identity, has rallied support among fellow authoritarian states. The divided opinions speak both to China's growing global influence and the backlash that has prompted among the world's liberal societies.
President Joe Biden's administration was not openly supportive of Pelosi's trip, with the president himself saying the military felt it was “not a good idea right now" amid heightened tensions between the sides.
China has responded to the visit by announcing a series of days-long military exercises surrounding Taiwan and issuing a stream of invective aimed at the U.S. and Taiwan governments, accusing them of colluding to undermine Chinese sovereignty and national security. China in 2016 severed contacts with independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen over her refusal to endorse its insistence that the island and mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.
“This action is a solemn deterrent against the recent major escalation of the negative actions of the United States on the Taiwan issue, and a serious warning to the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces seeking ‘independence,’” the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater command said in a statement Tuesday.
Exercises will include air and sea drills and long-range missile targeting, the statement said. Operators are already bracing for disruptions to civil aviation and commercial shipping.
The Chinese response has sparked concerns about a new Taiwan Strait crisis, similar to that of 1995-96, when China held threatening military exercises and bracketed the island with missile strikes in waters north and south of its main ports. Despite their division amid civil war more than 70 years ago, China has maintained its threat to invade and has massively increased its capabilities through investments in missiles, navy ships and its air force.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, whose country's ties with China have nosedived in recent years, declined to comment specifically Wednesday on Pelosi's visit. However, he noted, “We live in an era where the strategic competition and increased tension in our region and where China has taken a more aggressive posture in the region."
“But our position on Taiwan is clear," he added. “We don’t want to see any unilateral change to the status quo and we’ll continue to work with partners to promote peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno also avoided commenting on Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, but raised concern about China’s planned live-fire military exercises in the regional seas that encompass parts of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Matsuno said Japan has conveyed Tokyo’s “concerns” to Beijing about the exercise.
“The peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait is important not only for Japan’s national security but also for the international community, and Japan’s position is that we expect peaceful solution of the issues surrounding Taiwan through dialogue,” Matsuno said.
Chinese ally North Korea, meanwhile, used the visit to accuse the U.S. of being “the root cause of harassed peace and security in the region,” and said it supported Beijing in the confrontation surrounding Pelosi’s visit.
“We vehemently denounce any external force’s interference in the issue of Taiwan, and fully support the Chinese government’s just stand to resolutely defend the sovereignty of the country and territorial integrity,” a government spokesperson was quoted as saying. “The U.S. scheme to disturb the growth and development of China and its efforts for accomplishing the cause of reunification is bound to go bankrupt.”
Russia — another Chinese ally and whose invasion of Ukraine has fueled concerns over China’s own threat to annex Taiwan by force — called the visit a “clear provocation, which is in line with the United States’ aggressive policy aimed at comprehensively containing China.”
Beijing “has the right to take measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in relation to the Taiwan issue," the government said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov further criticized the visit in comments Wednesday during a stop in Myanmar, whose Moscow-backed military government is accused of widespread human rights abuses.
“It’s an aspiration to prove to everyone their impunity and show lawlessness. ‘It’s my way only,’ something like this," Lavrov said in reference to the U.S. “I see no other reason to create such an annoyance almost out of the blue."
China and Russia have closely aligned their foreign policies in recent years, with Moscow backing China over Taiwan and Beijing refusing to criticize Russia for invading Ukraine, while accusing the U.S. and NATO of provoking the conflict and leveling punishing economic sanctions against Russia.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency also quoted the Chinese secretary general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as saying the China and Russia-dominated grouping of mainly Central Asia states “firmly opposes interference in the internal affairs of its member states by any external force.”
“Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region in disregard of China’s strong opposition and serious representations, and the Chinese government has expressed its firm opposition to and stern condemnation of the visit,” Zhang Ming was quoted as saying.
Pelosi has made criticism of China and support for Taiwan a key focus in her more than three decades in Congress, famously unveiling a banner commemorating victims of the Chinese military's bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square during a visit to the site in 1991.
In remarks at a meeting with Tsai on Wednesday, she said, “Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy.”
“America’s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad,” Pelosi said.
After Taiwan, she will visit South Korea and Japan, both major U.S. security partners in Asia.