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Taiwan tensions

Taiwan tensions


Relations between the US and China were already strained before Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. So why did Nancy Pelosi go, despite the warnings? 

“Those who died here on June 4th 1989 did not die in vain, they were martyrs to these principles that we all hold dear.” 

News bulletin 1991

A news report from September 1991 shows three members of the United States Congress doing something that would upset their Chinese hosts.

The trio are visting Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where two years before, scores of pro-democracy protesters were massacred by China’s security services. 

In front of news cameras, the American visitors unfurl a black banner that says: “To those who died for democracy in China.”

“As they laid three white flowers at the foot of the monument to martyrs, Beijing police moved in. They ordered the congress members to stop the ceremony and told journalists to put down their cameras.”

News bulletin 1991

The officers give the three US politicians a stern talking to and rough up journalists who are there to document their unofficial ceremony. 

One of the members of congress who visited Tiananmen Square on that day was Nancy Pelosi, who is now one of the most powerful and influential people in the United States – the speaker of the US House of Representatives. 

And 30 years on from her Beijing visit, Nancy Pelosi has caused another diplomatic stir.


“Tonight US-China tensions increase as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan, the highest-ranking American official in 25 years to visit the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.”

CBS News

Taiwan has a tricky status internationally. It’s ruled independently and has a democratically elected government, but just 14 countries recognise it as a state in its own right.

That’s because China sees it as part of its territory and has long term plans to absorb the island under an arrangement it calls “one country, two systems”. 

But Taiwan wants to remain independent.

In 2016, its citizens elected Tsai Ing Wen as president. She opposes unification, which has strained relations with Beijing.

That’s why very few senior government officials ever visit Taiwan, especially ones from major global powers like the United States.

Because China sees any support for Taiwan’s self-determination as a threat to its territorial integrity.  

So for foreign leaders wanting to maintain working relationships with China, trips to Taipei are simply off the cards.


The White House was certainly wary about Nancy Pelosi’s visit. 

It’s long tried to keep its options open when it comes to Taiwan. It supports the island’s right to self determination, but has never been clear whether it would defend it if China tried to take it by force.

The news website Politico reported that government advisers told Nancy Pelosi, in no uncertain terms, about the potential risks of visiting. 

And President Biden weighed in publicly when asked about it by reporters

“The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.”

Joe Biden, Washington Post

They had good reason to be cautious. 

Before Nancy Pelosi’s trip, a Chinese government spokesperson warned there would be “serious consequences” if she went: 

In translation: “If US House speaker Pelosi goes to Taiwan, it will be a gross interference in China’s internal affairs, will seriously undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, wantonly trample on the one China principle, seriously threaten peace and stability in the Taiwan strait and seriously damage US china relations.”

And China has made good on its threat of “consequences”….

“Minutes after Pelosi’s arrival, China announced a series of  targeted military operations in response to the House speaker’s visit. State media publishing a map of the drills which began during the overnight hours, some just miles from the Taiwanese coast.”


They’ve used planes, ships and missiles to menace the island. 

On the day Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, 21 Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s airspace. 

And Beijing kept up the intimidation tactics even after she left, firing several missiles into the waters that surround the island. 

So why did Nancy Pelosi go, despite the warnings?


“Few alive have been as stalwart as Nancy Pelosi in fighting for the rights of the Chinese people.”


That’s what a colleague of Nancy Pelosi, Senator Jeff Merkley, said about her when she addressed a hearing on China’s human rights abuses earlier this year. 

Throughout her long career in politics she’s stood up to China’s authoritarianism.

And her campaigning has only increased over the past few years after China cracked down on rights and freedoms in Hong Kong… 

“The Chinese regime just thinks that they can act with impunity in repressing uh the spirit of democracy…It is nothing short of an all-out effort to negate the rights of the people of Hong Kong.”


And she was instrumental in getting the US Congress to recognise China’s abuses against Uighur Muslim as a genocide. 

“Indeed the erasure of the Uighurs is so precisely the definition of genocide….and that is why with a strong bipartisan package of legislation we will pass today the house takes yet another bold bipartisan step to counter these crimes against humanity.”

Forbes Beaking News

Her trip to Taiwan was just another example of her commitment to defending human rights and democratic freedoms. 

In a joint press conference with Taiwan’s president, Nancy Pelosi said that her visit was really about showing America’s solidarity with Taiwan: 

“Four decades ago, the Taiwan Relations Act was built – in building a strong bond between our two countries: advancing our shared interests of governance, economy and security, while respecting the ‘One China’ policy.  Our solidarity with you is more important than ever, as you defend Taiwan and their freedom.”

AP News

America, after all, is meant to be the “leader of the free world”.

This episode was written and mixed by Ella Hill.