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Pelosi praises Taiwan as ‘one of the freest societies in the world’

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) meets Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong on Aug. 1, 2022, in Singapore. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

(CNN) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Taiwan as “one of the freest societies in the world” on Wednesday morning local time in her first public remarks since becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the island in 25 years.

Pelosi spoke at the beginning of a meeting between the U.S. congressional delegation she is leading and members of the Taiwanese Parliament, exchanging pleasantries with Taiwan’s Deputy Speaker Tsai Chi-chang before the lawmakers’ closed-door meeting. Later Wednesday, Pelosi is expected to meet Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.

“So now we look forward to our conversation about how we can work together, learning from you and sharing some thoughts ourselves on how to protect the planet from the climate crisis, how to accelerate and learn from you, how you address the COVID crisis, how we advance respect for all of the people in our countries as we go forward,” Pelosi said. “And again, we come in friendship, we thank you for your leadership, we want the world to recognize that.”

Tsai thanked Pelosi for coming to Taiwan and providing “rock-solid support,” saying the U.S. congressional delegation’s visit represents “the strongest defense and consolidation of the value of democracy and freedom.”

Pelosi traveled to Taiwan in the face of warnings from both the Biden administration and China, which reacted strongly after the House speaker’s congressional delegation touched down in Taipei on Tuesday.

Pelosi said in a statement that her visit to Taiwan “honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy.”

Pelosi and the congressional delegation landed in Taipei on Tuesday, the first time in 25 years that a U.S. House speaker has visited Taiwan, a self-governing island, which China claims as part of its territory.

China’s Foreign Ministry charged that Pelosi’s visit “has a severe impact on the political foundation of China-United States relations, and seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

China’s military — the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA — said it was conducting military exercises in response to Pelosi’s visit.

In an unusual move, Chinese state media posted on Twitter a map showing six areas around Taiwan where it said the PLA would conduct drills, including live-fire exercises from Thursday through Sunday.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said that 21 Chinese warplanes made incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday.

The incursions were made by 10 J-16 fighter jets, eight J-11 fighter jets, one Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft, one Y-8 electronic intelligence aircraft, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday night.

The Taiwanese military issued radio warnings and deployed air defense missile systems to monitor the activities, it added.

China frequently sends warplanes into Taiwan’s self-declared ADIZ. The most incursions ever recorded was on October 4 last year, when 56 military planes flew into the area on the same day.

Air defense identification zones are buffer areas set up to give advance warning of incoming aircraft. They are distinct from, and go beyond, sovereign airspace, which is defined under international law as extending 12 nautical miles from a territory’s shoreline.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Feng summoned the U.S. ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, late on Tuesday evening local time to protest the visit, Chinese state media outlet CCTV reported on Wednesday.

However, White House officials said that Pelosi’s trip was consistent with U.S. policy toward Taiwan, while warning Beijing not to escalate in response.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the speaker’s visit, saying it “fully demonstrates the high importance the U.S. Congress attaches to Taiwan.”

Pelosi, long a China hawk, explained in an op-ed published shortly after she landed Tuesday why she chose to be first speaker to travel to Taiwan in 25 years, writing that the United States needed to stand by a democracy now under threat by the Chinese Communist Party.

“We cannot stand by as the (Communist Party) proceeds to threaten Taiwan — and democracy itself,” she wrote.