Visiting US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi waves to journalists during her arrival at the parliament in Taipei on Wednesday. (AFP photo)
TAIPEI: China on Wednesday furiously condemned the highest-level US visit to Taiwan in 25 years as House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed the self-ruled island as “one of the freest societies in the world” and pledged American solidarity.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi vowed to punish those who offend Beijing, state media reported, as the country seethes over Ms Pelosi’s visit.
“This is a complete farce. The United States is violating China’s sovereignty under the guise of so-called ‘democracy’… those who offend China will be punished,” Mr Wang said on the sidelines of a meeting of Asean in Phnom Penh.
Beijing demonstrated its anger with Ms Pelosi’s presence on an island that it says is part of China with a burst of live-fire military drills in surrounding waters, summoning the US ambassador in Beijing and halting several agricultural imports from Taiwan.
Some of China’s planned military exercises will take place within Taiwan’s 12 nautical mile sea and air territory, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry, an unprecedented move a senior defence official described to reporters as “amounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan”.
Ms Pelosi arrived with a congressional delegation on an unannounced visit late on Tuesday, defying China’s repeated warnings, in what she said shows unwavering US commitment to Taiwan’s democracy.
“Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear that we will not abandon Taiwan,” Ms Pelosi told Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
“Now, more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial, and that’s the message we are bringing here, today.”
Addressing parliament, Ms Pelosi said new US legislation aimed at strengthening the American chip industry to compete with China “offers greater opportunity for US-Taiwan economic cooperation”.
“We thank you for your leadership. We want the world to recognise that,” Ms Pelosi told Ms Tsai, who Beijing suspects of pushing for formal independence — a red line for China.
The last US house speaker to go to Taiwan was Newt Gingrich, in 1997. But Ms Pelosi’s visit comes amid sharply deteriorating Sino-US relations.
China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring it under its control. The United States warned China against using the visit as a pretext for military action against Taiwan.
Ms Pelosi was scheduled to continue her Asian tour with stops in South Korea and Japan. Her plane took off from an airport in Taipei at around 6pm Taiwan time on Wednesday.