SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met top South Korean political leaders on Thursday, a day after she concluded her high-profile visit to Taiwan by renewing Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to defending democracy on the self-governing island despite vehement protests from China.
Regional tensions are rising following Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, with China preparing to launch its largest military maneuvers aimed at Taiwan in more than a quarter of a century in response.
After visiting Taiwan, Pelosi and other members of Congress flew to South Korea — a key U.S. ally where about 28,500 American troops are deployed — on Wednesday evening, as part of an Asian tour that included stops in Singapore and Malaysia. The group will next travel to Japan, after South Korea.
Pelosi met with Kim Jin Pyo (South Korean National Assembly Speaker) and other high ranking members of Parliament on Thursday for discussions about regional security and economic cooperation as well as climate and related issues. Live TV footage captured Kim and Pelosi chatting and taking photos in front of the South Korean and U.S. flags before their talks.
Later in the day, Pelosi planned to visit an inter-Korean border area that is jointly controlled by the American-led U.N. Command and North Korea, a South Korean official said requesting anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media on the matter.
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Pelosi will be the highest ranking American ever to visit the Joint Security Area, since Donald Trump was the last American president to do so in 2019, when he met with Kim Jong Un.
Within the Demilitarized Area, measuring 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in width, is the JSA. This buffer was established at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War. It has served as the venue for many talks and witnessed past bloodshed. Presidents of the United States and other high-ranking officials often travel to the JSA or other border areas in order to renew their commitment to South Korea’s security.
Pelosi’s criticism of North Korea is bound to get a furious reply from Pyongyang. On Wednesday, the North’s Foreign Ministry slammed the United States over her Taiwan trip, saying that “the current situation clearly shows that the impudent interference of the U.S. in internal affairs of other countries.”
Also on Thursday afternoon, Pelosi will speak by phone with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is on a vacation this week, according to Yoon’s office. According to Yoon’s office, there has not been any face-to–face meeting between the two of them. Yoon, a conservative, took office in May with a vow to boost South Korea’s military alliance with the United States and take a tougher line on North Korean provocations.
Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, the first by an incumbent House speaker in 25 years, has infuriated China, which views the island nation as a breakaway province to be annexed by force if necessary. China considers foreign officials visiting Taiwan as acknowledging its sovereignty.
Two protesters wearing masks of U.S. president Joe Biden are demonstrating against planned military exercises between South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol and the United States. They staged the rally in opposition to the U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s South Korean visit, at the Seoul presidential office, South Korea on Thursday, August 4, 2022.
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
“Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Pelosi said in a short speech during a meeting with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. “America’s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad.”
Both the Biden administration as well as Pelosi stated that the United States is committed to its so-called one China policy. This recognizes Beijing, but permits informal relations with Taipei and allows for defense and military ties. Pelosi’s visit to the United States was discouraged by the Biden administration, however they did not stop her from going.
The military exercises that China plans to stage in response to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit are to start Thursday and involve live fire. These would be the largest ever directed at Taiwan since 1995 when China launched missiles as part of a massive exercise in protest over the U.S. visit to Taiwan by the then-Taiwanese President Lee Tenghui.
China already has fighter jets, war planes, and bombers flying towards Taiwan. This also blocks imports from Taiwan of citrus fruits and fish.
Tsai pushed back firmly against Beijing’s military exercises, parts of which will enter Taiwanese waters.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said at her meeting with Pelosi. “We will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy.”
John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council in Washington sought to calm fears. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that U.S. officials “don’t believe we’re at the brink now, and there’s certainly no reason for anybody to be talking about being at the brink going forward.”
Addressing Beijing’s threats, Pelosi said she hopes it’s clear that while China has prevented Taiwan from attending certain international meetings, “that they understand they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan as a show of friendship and of support.”
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Pelosi noted that congressional support for Taiwan is bipartisan, and she praised the island’s democracy. She stopped short of saying that the U.S would defend Taiwan militarily and emphasized that Congress is “committed to the security of Taiwan, in order to have Taiwan be able to most effectively defend themselves.”
On Thursday, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations called for calm in the Taiwan Strait, urging against any “provocative action.” ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a regional forum said they were concerned the situation could “destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers.”
Pelosi’s focus has always been the same, she said, going back to her 1991 visit to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when she and other lawmakers unfurled a small banner supporting democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters at the square. That visit was also about human rights and what she called dangerous technology transfers to “rogue countries.”
Pelosi’s trip heightened U.S.-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress because of her position as leader of the House of Representatives. Newt Gingrich, the last House speaker, visited Taiwan in 1997.
China and Taiwan have been separated since 1949, after which they broke apart. However, there are multibillion dollar business ties.
—Wu reported from Taipei Taiwan. This report was contributed by David Rising, Associated Press journalist from Phnom Penh.
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