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Pelosi says US will ‘not allow’ China to isolate Taiwan

In May, US President Joe Biden angered Beijing while on a visit to Japan, when he said US forces would defend Taiwan militarily if China attempted to take control of the island by force.

The Straits Times | TOKYO |

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday (Aug 5) that the United States will “not allow” China to isolate Taiwan, after her visit to the self-ruled island infuriated Beijing.

China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited – by force if necessary – launched its largest-ever military exercises around the island after Mrs Pelosi defied stern threats to become the highest-profile US official to set foot on Taiwanese soil in 25 years.

Now in Tokyo on the final leg of her Asian tour, Mrs Pelosi did not comment directly on the military drills but argued that American politicians should be able to travel to Taiwan freely.

“They may try to keep Taiwan from visiting or participating in other places, but they will not isolate Taiwan by preventing us to travel there,” she told reporters.

“We will not allow them to isolate Taiwan,” she said, reiterating that her trip was “not about changing the status quo” in the region.

“It is about…all of the pieces of legislation and agreements that have established what our relationship is. To have peace in the Taiwan Strait and have the status quo prevail.”

When asked if the trip was more about her own legacy than benefiting Taiwan, Mrs Pelosi replied: “This isn’t about me – it’s about them.”

She called the island “a great democracy with a thriving economy”, saying that she was proud of her work showcasing concerns related to mainland China, from alleged trade violations and arms proliferation to human rights.

The 82-year-old American politician arrived in Tokyo on Thursday from South Korea, another key US ally, where she visited the border with nuclear-armed North Korea and vowed support to denuclearise the North.

It is her first time in Japan since 2015, and on Friday morning she met Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who said Japan had “called for the immediate cancellation of the military drills”.

“China’s actions this time around have a serious impact on the peace and stability of our region and the international community,” Mr Kishida told reporters after meeting Mrs Pelosi for breakfast.

“I told her that we have called for the immediate cancellation of the military drills,” he said.

Tokyo said five Chinese ballistic missiles were believed to have fallen in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with four of those presumed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island. The EEZ extends up to 200 nautical miles from Japan’s coastline, beyond the limits of its territorial waters

Parts of Japan’s southernmost Okinawa region are close to Taiwan, as are islets at the centre of a long-running dispute between Tokyo and Beijing.

Mr Kishida said he and Mrs Pelosi also discussed geopolitical issues including matters related to North Korea, China and Russia, as well as efforts towards a nuclear-free world.

He said the two allies would work together to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, a key shipping route.

“We also confirmed a continued close cooperation to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

Mrs Pelosi is also expected to meet her Japanese counterpart Hiroyuki Hosoda, speaker of the more powerful lower house of parliament, later on Friday.

She said the US wanted to find “common ground” with China on issues from rights to climate change.

“If we do not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak about human rights any place in the world,” she said.

“Again, it isn’t about our visit determining what the US-China relationship is. It’s a much bigger and longer-term challenge, and one that we have to recognize that we have to work together in certain areas.”

In May, US President Joe Biden angered Beijing while on a visit to Japan, when he said US forces would defend Taiwan militarily if China attempted to take control of the island by force.

His reply appeared to be a departure from the existing US policy of “strategic ambiguity”, which means US support for Taiwan’s government while diplomatically recognizing Beijing over Taipei, and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.

Washington does not officially have ties with Taipei but it is obligated under its own law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

Following Mr Biden’s comments, a White House official said there was no change in US policy towards Taiwan. Mr Biden later also said there was no change to a policy of “strategic ambiguity” in Taiwan.

Mrs. Pelosi’s Japan visit came as Tokyo, one of Washington’s closest allies, has been increasingly alarmed about China’s growing might in the Indo-Pacific and the possibility that Beijing could take military action against Taiwan.

Mr Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has also pledged to double military spending to 2 per cent of GDP.

Tensions between Japan and China ramped up a notch on Thursday when China announced that a meeting between the two nations’ foreign ministers, set to take place on the sidelines of an Asean meeting in Cambodia, had been called off due to its displeasure with a Group of Seven statement urging Beijing to resolve Taiwan tension peacefully.