Updated Aug 3, 2022 - World

Pelosi to Taiwan president: "We will not abandon our commitment" to island

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (L) receives Taiwan’s highest civilian honour from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on August 03, 2022 in Taipei, Taiwan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi receives the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon, Taiwan’s highest civilian honour, from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen at the president's office in Taipei on Wednesday. Photo: Handout/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen in Taipei Wednesday that "now more than ever America's solidarity with Taiwan is crucial."

Why it matters: The meeting further infuriated Beijing, which claims Taiwan and rejects any gesture that seems to treat the self-governing island as an independent nation. Beijing responded by blocking fish and citrus fruit imports from Taiwan and warning airlines to avoid airspace near the island ahead of live-fire military drills this week.

  • Officials in Taipei and Tokyo expressed alarm at the planned drills, with a Taiwanese official saying the exercises may amount to "a sea and air blockade."

Meanwhile, Pelosi told Tsai: "We are so proud of your leadership — a woman president in one of the freest societies in the world."

  • "We will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan," she added.

Driving the news: Pelosi also visited Taiwan's legislature and was expected to meet with democracy advocates before departing Taiwan later on Wednesday.

  • Tsai presented Pelosi with an award after they arrived for their meeting, and both offered remarks. Tsai said Taiwan would "never back down" from threats to its security, while Pelosi said the U.S. had made "a bedrock promise to always stand with Taiwan."

What to watch: China's military drills are planned to be conducted on all sides of Taiwan over the next several days, as well as bans on certain products from the island.

Between the lines: It's significant that live video of the Pelosi-Tsai meeting is being published around the world.

  • Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund, noted ahead of the meeting that the way it was handled — including whether video footage was released — could influence China's ongoing response to Pelosi's visit.
  • After arriving on the island, Pelosi said in a statement that she was visiting Taiwan to show support for a key democratic partner. China's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, released a long statement accusing her of a "major political provocation" and promising a strong response.

Tsai remained silent on Pelosi's trip prior to her arrival, but several of her allies expressed support.

  • Tsai was first elected in 2016 as Taiwan's first female president. She leads the Democratic Progressive Party, which strongly opposes unification with China.
  • A firm advocate of U.S.-Taiwan ties, she's viewed with deep suspicion in Beijing — though she has said that Taiwan does not need to declare independence because it's already sovereign.
  • She was re-elected in a landslide in 2020, due in part to growing wariness on the island. Beijing continues to threaten to take control of the island, by force if necessary.

Go deeper: Pelosi's Taiwan visit has echoes of 1996 crisis

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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