TOKYO (AP) — China will not be able to isolate Taiwan by preventing United States (US) officials from travelling there, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday in Tokyo as she wrapped up an Asia tour highlighted by a visit to Taipei that infuriated Beijing.
Beijing has tried to isolate Taiwan, including by preventing the self-governing island from joining the World Health Organisation, Pelosi said.
“They may try to keep Taiwan from visiting or participating in other places, but they will not isolate Taiwan by preventing us to travel there,” she said, defending her trip that has escalated tensions in the region.
Pelosi said her visit to Taiwan was not intended to change the status quo for the island but to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan and mainland China. She praised Taiwan’s hard-fought democracy and success in technology and business, while criticizing Chinese violations of trade agreements, weapons proliferation and human rights problems, including its treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority.
“If we do not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out about human rights any place in the world,” Pelosi said in a news conference. “China has some contradictions — some progress in terms of lifting people up, some horrible things happening in terms of the Uyghurs. In fact, it’s been labeled a genocide.”
Pelosi said “the two big countries” — the United States and China — must communicate in areas such as climate and other global issues. “It isn’t about our visit determining what the U.S.-China relationship is. It’s a much bigger and longer-term challenge and once again, we have to recognize that we have to work together on certain areas.”
China announced Friday that it is cancelling or suspending dialogue with the United States on a range of issues from climate change to military relations and anti-drug efforts in retaliation for Pelosi’s visit. It also announced unspecified sanctions on Pelosi and her family. Such sanctions are generally mostly symbolic in nature.
China, which claims Taiwan and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary, called Pelosi’s visit a provocation and on Thursday began military drills, including missile strike training, in six zones surrounding Taiwan, in what could be its biggest since the mid-1990s.
Pelosi, the first House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, said China launched the “strikes probably using our visit as an excuse.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said China’s military exercises represent a “grave problem” that threatens regional peace and security after five missiles launched as part of the drills landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near a remote southwestern island.
Kishida, speaking after a breakfast meeting with Pelosi and her congressional delegation, said the missile launches need to be “stopped immediately.”
Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said he believes China intentionally fired the five missiles into the Japanese-claimed zone, which China refuses to recognize. The ministry said it believes four other missiles fired from China’s southeastern coast of Fujian flew over Taiwan.
Tetsuo Kotani, a Meikai University professor and senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, tweeted that the trip gave China an excuse to ignore the midline in the Taiwan Strait that for decades has been an unofficial buffer zone, and the Japanese exclusive economic zone, and could add risks to US warships and others passing through the strait.
Japan has in recent years bolstered its defence capability and troop presence in southwestern Japan and remote islands, including Okinawa, which is about 700 kilometres (420 miles) northeast of Taiwan. Many residents say they worry their island will be quickly embroiled in any Taiwan conflict. Okinawa is home to the majority of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact.
Pelosi and five other members of Congress arrived in Tokyo late Thursday after visiting Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea.
In their breakfast meeting, Kishida said Pelosi and her delegation discussed shared security concerns over China, North Korea and Russia and pledged to work toward peace and stability in Taiwan. Pelosi also held talks with her Japanese counterpart, lower house Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, after observing a plenary session at which they were welcomed by a standing ovation.
Japan and its key ally, the US, have been pushing for new security and economic frameworks with other democracies in the Indo-Pacific region and Europe as a counter to China’s growing influence amid rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei.
Days before Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, a group of senior Japanese lawmakers, including former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba, visited the island and discussed regional security with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Ishiba said Japan, while working with the United States to prevent conflict in the Indo-Pacific, wants a defence agreement with Taiwan.
The Chinese military exercises launched Thursday involve its navy, air force and other departments and are to last until Sunday. They include missile strikes on targets in the seas north and south of the island in an echo of the last major Chinese military drills in 1995 and 1996 aimed at intimidating Taiwan’s leaders and voters.
Taiwan has put its military on alert and staged civil defence drills, while the US has numerous naval assets in the area.
China also flew warplanes toward Taiwan and blocked imports of its citrus and fish.
China sees the island as a breakaway province and considers visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as recognizing its sovereignty.
The Biden administration and Pelosi have said the United States remains committed to a “one China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei. The administration discouraged but did not prevent Pelosi from visiting.
Pelosi has been a long-time advocate of human rights in China. She, along with other lawmakers, visited Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1991 to support democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters at the square.
As leader of the House of Representatives, Pelosi’s trip has heightened US-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress. The last House speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
China and Taiwan, which split in 1949 after a civil war, have no official relations but multibillion-dollar business ties.