Nancy Pelosi met with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on Wednesday, where the US House of Representatives Speaker described the island as "one of the freest societies in the world."
Pelosi expressed the United States' "unwavering" support for Taiwan as she accepted a civilian honor, the Order of the Propitious Clouds, presented to her by President Tsai.
The encounter came after she met with senior lawmakers earlier in the day.
"We wish to cooperate and work in unity with all democracies around the world," Tsai said after presenting Pelosi with the award.
The president said that Taiwan "will not back down" in the face of "deliberately heightened military threat," in an apparent reference to Chinese pressure.
What has Pelosi said so far?
Pelosi, along with six other US lawmakers, arrived in Taiwan late Tuesday in an unannounced — yet highly anticipated — visit, protested by Beijing. She is the highest-ranking US politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
"We come in friendship to Taiwan. We come in peace to the region," Pelosi said during televised remarks at the start of her talks.
She was scheduled to meet with Taiwan's parliament speaker You Si-Kun, but was instead received by the legislature's vice president, Tsai Chi-Chang, after You tested positive for COVID.
Speaking next to the senior lawmaker, Pelosi said she was seeking to increase parliamentary exchanges with Taipei. She also spoke about a new US legislation that could provide opportunities for cooperation in the semiconductor industry between the US and Taiwan, one of the world's largest semiconductor manufacturers.
"We commend Taiwan for being one of the freest societies in the world," Pelosi told Taiwan's parliament.
Later, after meeting with President Tsai, Pelosi said: "The story of Taiwan is an inspiration to all freedom-loving people."
"Now more than ever, America's solidarity with Taiwan is crucial, and that is the message we're bringing today," she said.
Pelosi is also set to meet with Hong Kong and Taiwan pro-democracy activists later in the day.
How has China responded?
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Pelosi's visit was damaging stability in the Taiwan Strait, which separates mainland China and Taiwan.
The ministry summoned US Ambassador Nicholas Burns late on Tuesday and warned that Washington "shall pay the price" for Pelosi's visit.
"The move is extremely egregious in nature and the consequences are extremely serious," China's deputy Foreign Minister Xie Feng was quoted as saying by the state news agency Xinhua.
Beijing, which considers the self-governing island as part of its own territory, had threatened repercussions to the visit, and announced that it would launch live-fire military drills around Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday.
Before Pelosi's arrival, Chinese warplanes buzzed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait. China's Defense Ministry also said the military was put on high alert and would launch "targeted military operations" in response to the visit.
On Wednesday, Taiwan's Defense Ministry said China's drills encircling the island posed a threat to key ports and urban areas, vowing "strengthened" defenses.
Tokyo also raised concern over the military exercises, with government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno saying they overlapped with Japan's exclusive economic zone.
"Considering the live-fire training nature of this military activity, Japan has expressed concerns to the Chinese side," Matsuno told reporters.
Why is Pelosi in Taiwan?
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post after her landing, Pelosi said the United States' was committed to Taiwan's democracy.
"We cannot stand by as the CCP proceeds to threaten Taiwan — and democracy itself," Pelosi said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Taipei is the third stop in Pelosi's Indo-Pacific tour, which has included visits to Singapore and Malaysia, with stops in South Korea and Japan also slated to take place.
Although the US holds no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Washington is Taiwan's most significant political and military backer.
Pelosi visit unnecessary, says Russia's Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that Pelosi's trip was unnecessary and provocative.
"I see no other reason to create such an annoyance almost out of the blue, knowing very well what it means for the People's Republic of China," Lavrov said on a visit to Myanmar, where he expressed support for the military government that seized power last year.
Baerbock attracts China criticism
Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, meanwhile, has also attracted the wrath of Beijing.
In a speech on transatlantic relations at a New York university, Baerbock compared some of China's threats to Taiwan to those from Russia towards Ukraine prior to invading its neighbor. "We have learned painfully in the last few months since February 24 that aggressive rhetoric can lead to dangerous action," she said. "China's statements with respect to Taiwan have raised serious questions."
This prompted a stern response from Chinese diplomat Wang Lutong, who is the head of the department for Europe in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Lutong said Baerbock's comments were "false" and that the Taiwan issue was an "internal matter for China."
In Germany, Marcus Faber, a Free Democrats member of the Bundestag, the German parliament, and head of the German-Taiwanese Association, told DW, "This visit of Mrs. Pelosi to Taiwan is such a very strong symbol that was needed right now."
A spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Germany recognizes the "one-China" policy, as does the US, and said Berlin was striving for de-escalation in the Taiwan Strait.
jsi,fb/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)