Backed by the protective cover of US military, Pelosi flew out of Taipei after a visit that shook global geo-politics, even as China threatened consequences and initiated moves to punish Taiwan with what Taiwanese defense ministry likened to a “maritime and aerial blockade.”
“Our discussions with Taiwan leadership reaffirm our support for our partner & promote our shared interests, including advancing a free & open Indo-Pacific region. 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, the first female speaker in US history, tweeted before her departure from Taiwan in a poke at authoritarian China and its claims that Taiwan is not a separate country but one of its provinces.
In a separate tweet, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, herself the country’s first female President and a nationalist, shared photos of her meeting with Pelosi saying “A pleasure to meet with [Speaker Pelosi] & recognise her longstanding support for Taiwan.
“Your visit not only reflects strong US congressional support for bilateral ties – it also sends a message to the world that democracies stand together in the face of common challenges,” Tsai wrote.
Pelosi’s controversial visit put a huge question mark on the strategic ambiguity Washington has long practised: one that balances a one-China policy while at the same time pledging to support Taiwan’s defense — codified in the Taiwan Defense Act — if Beijing attempts to take it with force.
Pelosi, 82-year-old grandmother of nine kids and mother of five, effectively disregarded President Biden’s counsel not to press ahead with her stopover even as Beijing went ballistic, summoning the US ambassador to China Nick Burns in the middle of the night to register its protest.
Washington tried to soften the Pelosi prickle by telling Beijing not to precipitate a crisis because there was a precedent to a House Speaker, not to speak of many US lawmakers visiting Taiwan over the years. But then Speaker Newt Gingrich’s trip took place in 1997, 25 years ago, when the world was different place: China was a puny Asian power eager for good relations with Washington and the US, riding high in a unipolar world after the Cold War, was keen to reciprocate.
While much has changed since then, Pelosi also brought a gender angle to China’s freak out over her visit, pointing out in a joint appearance with Tsai that “They (Beijing) didn’t say anything when the men came” US senators Lindsey Graham, Bob Menendez, Richard Burr, Ben Sasse, Rob Portman, and Ronny Jackson visited Taiwan in April this year.
But Pelosi is different. Her visit is a culmination of her long years of activism on the China front that has irked Beijing, including her closeness to the Dalai Lama, whom she sought out during a 2008 visit to India when she visited Dharamsala.
As lawmaker and House Speaker, she has multiple times felicitated the Tibetan leader, teaming up with actor Richard Gere and Uma Thurman among others to raise awareness on the Tibet issue. Her legislative district in San Francisco is 32 per cent Asian (44 per cent white), with many Chinese dissidents and Taiwanese/Tibetan nationalists.
Going further back, she enraged Beijing very early in her legislative career in 1991 when she unveiled a pro-democracy banner during a Congressional delegation visit to China at the very place it sought to crush it: Tienanmen Square. Chinese police hustled her out of there but the stance against communist China grew to the extent that she even challenged Bill Clinton’s trade outreach and accommodation that some analysts now say triggered the industrial decline of America.
Such is the realization and regret of that moment and everything that followed, that despite the current bitter and divisive politics in Washington, Republican leader Mitch McConnell and 25 GOP senators released a joint statement on Tuesday praising Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.