China has 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.
Beijing has demonstrated its anger with Pelosi's presence on an island that it says is part of China with a burst of military activity in surrounding waters, summoning the US ambassador in Beijing and halting several agricultural imports from Taiwan.
According to Taiwan's defence ministry, one of China's planned military exercises will take place within Taiwan's 12 nautical mile sea and air territory – an unprecedented move a senior defence official described to reporters as "amounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan."
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,” 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, 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," Pelosi told Tsai, who Beijing suspects of pushing for formal independence – a red line for China.
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The last US house speaker to go to Taiwan was Newt Gingrich, in 1997.
But Pelosi's visit comes amid sharply deteriorating Sino-US relations, and China has emerged as a far more powerful economic, military and geopolitical force during the past quarter century.
China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring it under its control. The United States has warned China against using the visit as a pretext for military action against Taiwan.
In retaliation, China's customs department announced a suspension of various imports from Taiwan, while its commerce ministry banned the export of natural sand to the island.
Beijing holds military drills east of Taiwan
Shortly after Pelosi's arrival, China's military announced joint air and sea drills near Taiwan and test launches of conventional missiles in the sea east of the island, with Chinese state news agency Xinhua describing live-fire drills and other exercises around Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday.
China's foreign ministry said Pelosi's visit seriously damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, "has a severe impact on the political foundation of China-US relations, and seriously infringes upon China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Before Pelosi's arrival, Chinese warplanes buzzed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese military said it was on high alert and will launch "targeted military operations" in response to Pelosi's visit.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Tuesday after Pelosi's arrival that the United States "is not going to be intimidated" by China's threats or bellicose rhetoric and that there is no reason her visit should precipitate a crisis or conflict.
The United States has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is bound by American law to provide it with the means to defend itself.
Beijing views visits by US officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp on the island.
Taiwan rejects China's sovereignty claims, saying only the Taiwanese people can decide the island's future.
On Wednesday, Taiwan's cabinet said the military has increased its alertness level. The island's defence ministry said 21 Chinese aircraft entered its air defence identification zone on Tuesday, and that China was attempting to threaten key ports and cities with drills in the surrounding waters.
In response to the military drills, a senior Taiwan official familiar with its security planning said: "We can see China's ambition – to make the Taiwan Strait non-international waters, as well as making the entire area west of the first island chain in the western pacific its sphere of influence."