TAIPEI, Taiwan — Media and crowds gathered at Taipei airport on Tuesday to witness the arrival of President Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
Huang Chao-yuan, a 53-year-old business owner, staked out the area near Songshan Airport to watch Ms Pelosi’s plane land, calling the speaker’s visit a “historic moment”.
“I am very excited about her visit today, because it is an example that the United States does not need to discuss with the CCP, that she can come here if she wishes, and whoever invites Taiwan can come here,” Huang said, using the acronym for the Communist Party of China. “This incident demonstrates Taiwan’s independence.”
Henry Chang, 32, a videographer who was at the airport to watch Ms Pelosi land, marveled at the novelty of seeing the arrival of such a high-profile US lawmaker.
“It was like catching a rare Pokemon,” he said.
He said he was not worried the visit could lead to a military conflict. “I feel like a war just can’t happen – everyone will go on with their lives,” he said.
A video provided by a Tibetan activist, Tashi Tsering, showed people gathering outside the Grand Hyatt Taipei on Tuesday night, where Ms Pelosi was due to spend the night. A number of them held up banners that read: “Taiwan public welcomes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” “Taiwan helps,” and “Taiwan ≠ China.” .
Outside the hotel, several dozen people supporting unification with China protested Ms. Pelosi’s visit: some demanded that she “leave Taiwan”, and others held up banners denouncing her.
“I feel bittersweet seeing Pelosi landing,” said a man in the crowd, Sam Lin, the owner of a recycling business. “It’s sad to see tensions rising across the strait, but I’m also glad to see that our reunification with China is becoming more achievable.”
Mr. Lin, 50, added, “I don’t want to see a war, but the current cross-Strait relations have reached another stage.”
In contrast to the protest, in the capital’s central business district, Taipei 101 – once the world’s tallest building and a major landmark in the city’s skyline – was lit up with messages welcoming Ms Pelosi.
In Taiwan, many are used to threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory. A standoff between Washington and Beijing over the speaker’s trip received moderate attention ahead of Tuesday. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen remained silent in the days leading up to Ms Pelosi’s arrival, although political advisers close to her said they welcomed visits from US officials.
To show how many Taiwanese have grown tired of China’s threats, Alexander Huang, a senior China-friendly Kuomintang official, said he welcomed Ms Pelosi’s visit and that she had a “rich” agenda. before her on the island.
During her visit, Ms Pelosi is due to visit the Taiwan Legislative Assembly and meet Speaker Tsai Ing-wen, according to a Taiwanese lawmaker and local official. She is also to attend a banquet at the Taipei Guest House and visit the National Museum of Human Rights.
Huang said the low-key approach to the visit reflected planning designed to avoid escalating an already tense situation with China.
“They didn’t make any statement to the outside world, trying not to upset the other side, and did their best to keep the situation in the Taiwan Strait from getting too tense,” he said. declared.
He said he was most worried about mainland China’s military response – particularly what China might do after Ms Pelosi leaves. He said it was possible that China would take steps to further isolate Taiwan internationally. In recent years, China has attracted several nations that recognize Taiwan as a country and cut it off from major international agencies like the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, the Taiwanese military said it would strengthen its combat readiness in anticipation of a possible response from China.