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Pelosi Lands in Taiwan Amid Chinese Threats and Chinese Warplanes Patrolling the Skies

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan aboard a U.S. military aircraft late on Tuesday, amid threats of Chinese retaliation, and with Chinese warplanes flying along the Taiwan Strait ahead of her arrival, Reuters reported.

Since Monday, several Chinese warships have also sailed near the unofficial dividing line and remained there, a source told Reuters.

The Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical moves of briefly “touching” the median line and circling back to the other side of the strait while Taiwanese aircraft were on standby nearby, the person said.

Neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line.

Four U.S. warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on what the U.S. Navy called routine deployments. The carrier had transited the South China Sea and was now in the Philippines Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan, a U.S. Navy official told Reuters.

It was operating with the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam and destroyer USS Higgins, with the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli also in the area.

Since last week, China’s People’s Liberation Army has conducted various exercises, including live-fire drills, in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, in a show of Chinese military might.

Pelosi and her delegation were greeted by Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu and Sandra Oudkirk, a U.S. diplomat serving as Director of the American Institute in Taiwan.

“Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Pelosi said in a statement shortly after landing. “America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”

Pelosi’s tour of Asia includes announced visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, Reuters reported. Her stop in Taiwan was not announced but was widely anticipated.

Most of Pelosi’s planned meetings, including with President Tsai Ing-wen, were scheduled for Wednesday, a person familiar with her itinerary said. Four sources said she was scheduled on Wednesday afternoon to meet a group of activists who are outspoken about China’s human rights record.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that democratically ruled Taiwan is Chinese territory and that itself replaced the ROC government in 1949, becoming the sole legal government of China.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that U.S. politicians who “play with fire” on the Taiwan issue will “come to no good end.” The Biden administration, meanwhile says it will not be intimidated by Chinese “sabre-rattling.”

During a phone call last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Biden that Washington should abide by the one-China principle and “those who play with fire will perish by it”. Biden told Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday that Beijing’s responses could include firing missiles near Taiwan, large-scale air or naval activities, or further “spurious legal claims” such as China’s assertion that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway.

“We will not take the bait or engage in sabre-rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated,” Kirby said.

On Monday, sirens sounded, and people were ordered to stay indoors in parts of Taiwan—including its capital Taipei— for an air-raid exercise in preparation of a Chinese attack, Reuters reported.

The mandatory street evacuation drills effectively shut down towns and cities across northern Taiwan for 30 minutes, according to Reuters.

During the exercise, authorities reportedly sent out a  “missile alert” via text message asking people to evacuate to safety immediately.

“It is necessary to make preparations in the event of a war,” said Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je  in a speech after overseeing drills for the exercise.

The PRC has long threatened to take Taiwan by force.

The island nation, which has its own currency, passport, postage stamps, internet top level domain (TLD), armed forces and a constitution with an independently elected president, rejects China’s claims of sovereignty.

A Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States told reporters in a call Tuesday that the damage Pelosi’s visit was doing to American-Chinese relations would be hard to fix.

“We all know how bad this relationship has been in the past year. And I just think that this visit by Nancy Pelosi is just going to take it to a new low,” said Taiwan expert Bonnie Glaser.  “And I think that it’s going to be very difficult to recover from that.”

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