As Nancy Pelosi’s historic Taiwan visit threatens to spark a major crisis between the US and China, public opinion on the tiny island nation is mixed.
Following weeks of fevered speculation, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives touched down in Taipei at about 10.45pm local time on Tuesday (12.45m AEST), sparking fury from Beijing which immediately launched military exercises in the face of the “serious violation”.
Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, is a self-governed democratic nation, but Beijing considers the island of 23 million people as its territory – to be seized one day, by force if necessary.
Ms Pelosi is the highest ranking US politician to visit Taiwan since then House speaker Newt Gingrich landed on the island in 1997. The Chinese government views any official visits to Taiwan by senior politicians from other countries as a provocation.
While many Taiwanese support independence and welcome the backing of the US, some question whether Ms Pelosi’s visit is an unnecessary provocation.
In a poll of nearly 7500 readers by the United Daily News website, 61 per cent said the trip was “not welcome” as it “may destabilise the Taiwan Strait”.
Only 38 per cent welcomed the visit and said it had “more advantages than disadvantages”.
Meanwhile, some critics at home have raised questions about the timing, which comes just a few months before the US midterm elections which could see Democrats lose control of Congress, and Ms Pelosi her powerful position.
“Taiwan is not a playground for US politicians,” Lyle Goldstein, director of Defense Priorities of Asia Engagement, told Bloomberg on Wednesday. “It is no exaggeration to say the future of humanity may depend on a pragmatic US-China relationship — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan needlessly jeopardises regional stability.”
In Taiwan, hundreds of civilians gathered in different locations to either welcome or protest Ms Pelosi’s arrival, The Guardian reported, with independence groups outside the airport holding signs saying “I love Pelosi” and “shut up China”.
But according to the newspaper, the largest crowd gathered outside the Grand Hyatt, where she was due to stay, with protesters holding signs calling the Democrat a warmonger and chanting “Yankee go home”.
Photos showed pro-CCP protesters holding signs saying “ugly American”, “toruble [sic] maker Nancy Pelosi” and “American witch get out of Taiwan, China”.
Chinese state-controlled media amplified the anti-Pelosi protests.
Gu Xijun, vice president of the Taipei-based Chinese Patriotic Concentric Association, told the Global Times that protests “will accompany Pelosi wherever she appears in Taiwan”.
Zhang Xiuye, a Taiwan resident who took part in the rally, reportedly told the outlet US politicians create cross-Straits tensions and use Taiwan as their ATM.
“If we don’t warn the Yanks in Taiwan, then we will be like [Taiwanese President] Tsai Ing-wen who is acquiescing to the Yanks,” she was quoted as saying. “Both sides of the Taiwan Straits are one family, and we can sit down and talk without the Yanks interfering. We sincerely hope for early reunification.”
The controversial visit also sparked protests in Ms Pelosi’s hometown of San Francisco, according to Newsweek, with anti-war activists joining with leaders of the city’s Chinese community on Monday.
Roughly 100 people gathered outside Ms Pelosi’s office at the San Francisco Federal Building urging her to cancel the stop, saying it unnecessarily risked a “potential war” with China.
Demonstrators held signs reading “US hands off Taiwan”, “stop the provocations” and “no war on China”, the outlet reported.
Julie Tang, a retired San Fransisco Supreme Court judge and longtime supporter of Ms Pelosi, told the San Francisco Standard she was “disappointed” about the trip.
“We have donated to her, we’ve supported her throughout these years, but we are so disappointed that what she’s doing is totally against the welfare and the wellbeing of the community – in particular Chinese Americans,” Ms Tang said.
“She does not listen to us. She’s going with the flow, going with pushing US hegemony to contain China. For what? We don’t get anything out of it.”