House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touched down in Taiwan on Tuesday, capping weeks of intense speculation surrounding her expected stopover despite blunt warnings from Beijing against the trip.
Mrs. Pelosi, who is leading a delegation of five other House Democrats through Asia, arrived in Taipei shortly before 11 p.m. local time. She is the highest U.S. official to visit the self-governing island just over 100 miles off mainland China since Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, made the visit more than two decades ago.
The California Democrat is expected to meet with Taiwanese government offices and others in Taipei on Wednesday, according to several media outlets and people familiar with Mrs. Pelosi’s itinerary.
The meeting is going ahead despite consistent warnings from China that the U.S. and Taiwan will face retaliation for what Beijing says is a grave violation of its sovereign rights.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused “some American politicians” of “playing with fire on the issue of Taiwan,” in a statement Tuesday warning that the U.S. “is bankrupting its national credibility.”
“This will definitely not have a good outcome … the exposure of America’s bullying face again shows it as the world’s biggest saboteur of peace,” Mr. Wang said.
Chinese officials, who say the visit is the latest in a series of moves by Washington to upend the “One China” policy in place since the Carter administration, have warned that the trip would cause serious harm to already tense bilateral relations. The White House, which did not take a position on Mrs. Pelosi’s agenda, denies it would mark any shift in official U.S. policy.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday that Mrs. Pelosi’s visit could pose “disastrous consequences.”
“No matter for what reason Pelosi goes to Taiwan, it will be a stupid, dangerous, and unnecessary gamble,” Ms. Hua said. “It is difficult to imagine a more reckless and provocative action.”
Beijing claims Taiwan as part of China and thus its own territory. The government in Taipei, which formally calls itself the Republic of China, is denounced as an illegitimate renegade.
After the speaker’s delegation departed for its tour throughout Asia, China announced Saturday that it would conduct “live-fire exercises” off its coast opposite Taiwan, intensifying fears that Beijing harbors intentions of launching an attack on the island.
On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned that the situation could devolve into a kinetic conflict.
“We want to once again make it clear to the U.S. side that the Chinese side is fully prepared for any eventuality and that the People’s Liberation Army of China will never sit idly by, and we will make resolute response and take strong countermeasures to uphold China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr. Zhao said.
The U.S. has warned that it would increase its military footprint in the region ahead of the delegation’s visit. Several U.S. warships, including the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier, and the USS Triple, an amphibious ship carrying Marine F-35B Lightning II Strike fighters, were operating in near Taiwan, U.S. officials said Monday.
Signs that China is serious about escalating its response became clear as Mrs. Pelosi’s expected arrival in Taiwan neared.
Taiwanese officials reported that Chinese warplanes skirted the line that divides the Taiwan Straight Tuesday morning.
Taiwan’s presidential office said that it had been targeted by an “overseas cyber attack” to its website ahead of the speaker’s visit Tuesday evening. The website was restored after being down for less than an hour.
The White House warned on Monday that Beijing’s increasingly provocative posturing in response to Mrs. Pelosi’s anticipated visit to Taiwan runs the risk of “miscalculation.”
The administration has continued to underscore the U.S. commitment to the “One China” policy, a diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing as the sole government of all “China.” The term includes the island of Taiwan.
“China appears to be positioning itself to potentially take further steps in the coming days and perhaps over longer time horizons,” Mr. Kirby said. “These potential steps from China could include military provocations, such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan.”
He added that the rising tension “raises the stakes of miscalculation and confusion, which could also lead to unintended consequences.”
The White House has refrained from commenting on the trip, noting that the speaker, a longtime critic of China and its human rights record, makes her own travel decisions.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also urged China to “act responsibly” on Monday in remarks at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
“If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of a crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” he said. “We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”
• David R. Sands contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.