SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After infuriating China over her trip to Taiwan, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with South Korean political leaders in Seoul on Thursday but avoided to make direct public comments on cross-Strait relations that could have further heightened regional tensions.
Pelosi, the first incumbent House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, said in Taipei on Wednesday that the US commitment to democracy on the self-governing island and elsewhere “remains rock solid”. In response, China began military exercises on Thursday, including missile firing training in six areas around Taiwan, in what could be the largest of its kind since the mid-1990s.
After visiting Taiwan, Pelosi and other members of Congress flew to South Korea – a key US ally where about 28,500 American troops are deployed – on Wednesday evening, as part of an Asian tour that will included stops in Singapore and Malaysia.
She met Thursday with the speaker of the South Korean National Assembly, Kim Jin Pyo, and other members of parliament. After the hour-long meeting, Pelosi spoke about the bilateral alliance, forged in blood during the 1950-1953 Korean War, and legislative efforts to support a push to strengthen ties, but did not directly mentioned his visit to Taiwan or the Chinese protests.
“We also come to tell you that a friendship, a relationship that began in urgency and safety, many years ago, has grown into the warmest of friendships,” Pelosi told a news conference. joint with Kim. “We want to advance security, the economy and governance in an inter-parliamentary way.”
Neither Pelosi nor Kim responded to reporters’ questions.
Kim said he and Pelosi shared concerns about growing nuclear threats from North Korea. He said the two agreed to support their governments’ efforts to establish denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula based on both strong deterrence against North Korea and diplomacy.
Later in the day, Pelosi planned to visit an inter-Korean border area jointly controlled by the US UN Command and North Korea, a South Korean official said requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak. to the media about it. .
If that visit happens, Pelosi would be the highest-level American to visit the Joint Security Area since President Donald Trump traveled there in 2019 for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Located inside the 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) wide Demilitarized Zone, a buffer zone created at the end of the Korean War, the JSA is the site of past bloodshed and the site of many talks. US presidents and other senior officials have often visited the JSA and other border areas to reaffirm their security commitment to South Korea.
Any statement critical of North Korea by Pelosi is sure to draw a furious response from Pyongyang. The North’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday criticized the United States over its trip to Taiwan, saying “the current situation clearly shows the brazen interference of the United States in the internal affairs of other countries.”
Pelosi will speak by phone Thursday afternoon with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is on vacation this week, according to Yoon’s office. No face-to-face meetings have been arranged between them. Yoon, a conservative, took office in May vowing to strengthen South Korea’s military alliance with the United States and take a tougher line in the face of North Korean provocations.
Chinese military drills launched on Thursday involved its navy, air force and other departments and are due to last until Sunday. They include missile strikes on targets in the seas north and south of the island in an echo of the last major Chinese military exercises aimed at intimidating Taiwan’s leaders and voters held in 1995 and 1996.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the drills were joint operations focusing on “blockading, assaulting sea targets, striking ground targets and controlling airspace”. Taiwan has put its army on high alert and organized civil defense exercises, while the United States has numerous naval assets in the region.
China has also previously flown fighter jets and other warplanes to Taiwan and has blocked citrus and fish imports from Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry called the Chinese drills “an unreasonable action aimed at changing the status quo, destroying peace and stability in the region.”
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has angered China, as it sees the island nation as a breakaway province to be annexed by force if necessary. China views visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as an acknowledgment of its sovereignty.
“Today the world is faced with a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Pelosi said in a brief speech when meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. “America’s resolve to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains steadfast.”
The Biden administration and Pelosi have said the United States remains committed to the so-called one-China policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. The administration discouraged but did not stop Pelosi from visiting.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby sought to allay fears. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday that U.S. officials “don’t believe we’re on the brink now, and there’s certainly no reason for anyone to talk about being on the brink. in the future”.
Responding to Beijing’s threats, Pelosi told Taiwan that she hopes it’s clear that if China has blocked Taiwan from attending certain international meetings, “that they understand that they won’t stand in the way of people who come to Taiwan as a sign of friendship and support”.
Pelosi noted that congressional support for Taiwan is bipartisan and hailed the island’s democracy. She refrained from saying that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily and stressed that Congress is “committed to Taiwan’s security, so that Taiwan can defend itself as effectively as possible.”
Tsai firmly rebuffed Beijing’s military drills, parts of which will enter Taiwanese waters.
“In the face of deliberately increased military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said during his meeting with Pelosi. “We will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to uphold the line of defense of democracy.”
On Thursday, the 10-Nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations called for calm in the Taiwan Strait, calling for opposition to any “provocative action”. ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for a regional forum said they feared the situation could “destabilize the region and ultimately lead to miscalculations, serious clashes , open conflicts and unpredictable consequences between the great powers”.
Pelosi’s goal has always been the same, she said, dating back to her 1991 visit to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when she and other lawmakers unfurled a small banner supporting democracy two years later. a bloody military crackdown on protesters in the square. That visit also focused on human rights and what she called dangerous transfers of technology to “rogue countries.”
Pelosi’s trip heightened US-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress due to his position as leader of the House of Representatives. The last House speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
China and Taiwan, which separated in 1949 after a civil war, have no official relations but commercial ties worth billions of dollars.
Wu reported from Taipei Taiwan.
Associated Press writer David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.