Nancy Pelosi pledges US solidarity with Taiwan amid alarm at China military drills

US House speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged America’s “crucial” solidarity with Taiwan, in a historic meeting with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who vowed not to back down in the face of military threats from China.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Pelosi questioned the motivations of Chinese president Xi Jinping when asked about his strong response to her visit. China has vowed “consequences” and has said it will begin live fire drills close to Taiwan on Thursday.

“Its really important for the message to be clear .. [the US] is committed to the security of Taiwan … but it’s about our shared values of democracy and freedom and how Taiwan has been an example to the world … Whether there are insecurities of the president of China relating to his own political situation I don’t know.”

Pelosi is in Taiwan for a controversial visit that has prompted a furious reaction from China, including planned missile tests and military “operations” around the island, which Taiwan has said breach international law.

She arrived on Tuesday night, and addressed Taiwan’s parliament on Wednesday morning before having a public meeting with Tsai.

“Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon Taiwan, and we are proud of our enduring friendship,” Pelosi said on Wednesday. Now more than ever, US solidarity with Taiwan was “crucial”.

Pelosi said 43 years ago the US made a “bedrock promise to always stand with Taiwan”. “On this strong foundation we have built a thriving partnership,” she said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Pelosi told Taiwan’s parliament the delegation came “in friendship to Taiwan [and] in peace to the region”.

Pelosi, the US’s first woman speaker, praised Taiwan’s growth into a leading democracy, now led by its first woman president. “Out of a crucible of challenge you have created a flourishing democracy.”

In her remarks, Tsai said Taiwan “will not back down” in the face of heightened military threats, and would “do whatever it takes to maintain Taiwan’s peace and stability”.

She said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had made security over the Taiwan strait another focus of the world’s attention.

At the press conference with three selected outlets, Pelosi said China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating in certain meetings, but would not stand in the way of dignitaries coming to visit Taiwan. She said China was making “a big fuss” about this visit because of her status as speaker. “I don’t know if that’s a reason or an excuse.”

“Whatever China will do they will do in their own good time,” Pelosi said.

China’s government has reacted to Pelosi’s visit with outrage. After her arrival its military announced joint air and sea drills near Taiwan, beginning on Tuesday night and including test launches of conventional missiles in the sea east of Taiwan.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Wednesday the live-fire drills around the democratic island this week demonstrated Beijing’s intention to destroy regional peace and stability. It accused China of violating international law with its plans to breach Taiwan’s sovereign space.

Taiwan has enhanced alertness levels and will react timely and appropriately to the drills, a defence ministry spokesman told reporters via a voice message.

At the press conference with Pelosi, Tsai reiterated that Taiwan was committed to maintaining the status quo. “Military exercises are unnecessary,” she said. “Taiwan has always been open to constructive dialogue.”

Beijing also summoned the US ambassador to China on Tuesday to rebuke him over Pelosi’s “egregious” trip, state media reported. Vice foreign minister Xie Feng voiced “strong protests” over Pelosi’s visit to the democratic self-governing island during his talk with ambassador Nicholas Burns.

On the economic front, China suspended the imports of a series of products from Taiwan including citrus fruits and frozen horse mackerel from 3 August, and the commerce ministry suspended the nation’s export of sand to Taiwan from 3 August.

According to a tentative schedule Pelosi was also expected to visit the Jingmei Human Rights Cultural Park, in Taipei, after a lunch with Tsai and other dignitaries. The Cultural Park is a former prison and court complex used during the decades long period of martial law, when Taiwan was ruled by Chiang Kai-shek. The Guardian visited the park late last year and met one of its guides and former political prisoner, Fred Chin.

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