TAIPEI, Taiwan — News media and crowds gathered at Taipei Airport on Tuesday to witness the arrival of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
Huang Chao-yuan, a 53-year-old business owner who visited the area near Changshan Airport to watch Ms. Pelosi’s plane land, called the speaker’s visit a “historic moment.”
“I’m very happy about her visit today because it’s an example that America doesn’t need to discuss with the CCP, she can come here if she wants, and Taiwan can come here whoever invites,” Ms. Huang said. Uses the acronym of the Chinese Communist Party. “This incident proves Taiwan’s independence.”
Videographer Henry Chang, 32, who was at the airport to watch Ms Pelosi land, was surprised by the arrival of such a high-profile US lawmaker.
“It felt like catching a rare Pokemon,” he said.
He said he was not worried that the visit would lead to a military conflict. “I feel that a war cannot simply happen – everyone will go on with their lives,” he said.
Video provided by Tibetan activist Tashi Tsering showed people gathering outside the Grand Hyatt Taipei on Tuesday night, where Ms Pelosi was expected to spend the night. Many of them carried banners such as “Taiwanese people welcome US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” “Taiwan helps” and “Taiwan ≠ China.”
Outside the hotel, several dozen people who supported unification with China protested against Ms. Pelosi’s visit: some chanted “Get out of Taiwan” at her, and others held banners denouncing her.
“It’s bittersweet to see Pelosi take the floor,” said Sam Lynn, owner of a recycling company in the crowd. “It’s sad to see tensions rising across the Straits, but I’m happy to see our reconnection with China becoming more attainable.”
50 year old Mr. Lin added, “I don’t want to see a war, but the current cross-border relations have reached another stage.”
In contrast to the protests, in the capital’s central business district, Taipei 101 – once the world’s tallest building and a landmark on the city’s skyline – lit up with messages welcoming Ms Pelosi.
In Taiwan, many have been affected by threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory. Tensions between Washington and Beijing over the speaker’s trip had received modest attention before Tuesday. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen remained tight-lipped in the days leading up to Ms Pelosi’s visit, although political advisers close to her have said she welcomes visits by US officials.
In a signal of how fed up Taiwan is Threats from ChinaAlexander Huang, a top official in the China-friendly Kuomintang, said he welcomed Ms Pelosi’s visit and said she had a “rich” schedule ahead of her on the island.
During her visit, Ms. Pelosi will visit Taiwan’s legislature and meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, a Taiwanese lawmaker and local official said. He also plans to attend a reception at a Taipei guest house and visit the National Human Rights Museum.
Mr. Huang said the visit’s low-key approach reflected planning designed to avoid escalating an already tense situation with China.
“They didn’t make a statement to the outside world, didn’t try to antagonize the other side, and did everything they could to make the situation in the Taiwan Strait less tense,” he said.
He said he was most concerned about a military response from mainland China — specifically, what China might do after Ms. Pelosi leaves. He said that China will take steps to further isolate Taiwan internationally. In recent years, China has wooed several countries to recognize Taiwan as a state and cut it off from major international organizations such as the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, Taiwan’s military said it was strengthening combat readiness in anticipation of a possible Chinese response.