After Taiwan, Pelosi meets with political leaders in South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with top South Korean political leaders Thursday, a day after wrapping up a high-profile visit to Taiwan, renewing Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to protecting the self-ruled island’s democracy despite the furious protests from China.

Regional tensions have been rising since Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, as China prepares in response to begin its largest military maneuvers targeting Taiwan in more than a quarter century.

After visiting Taiwan, Pelosi and other members of Congress flew to South Korea – a key US ally where some 28,500 US troops are stationed – on Wednesday night as part of an Asian tour that included stops in Singapore and Malaysia. After South Korea, they will travel to Japan.

On Thursday, Pelosi met with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo and other senior members of parliament to discuss regional security, economic cooperation and climate issues. Before their talks, live television footage showed Kim and Pelosi bumping elbows and posing for a photo in front of the national flags of South Korea and the United States.

Later in the day, Pelosi plans to visit an inter-Korean border area jointly controlled by the US-led UN Command and North Korea, said a South Korean official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.

Read more: There are no benefits to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan

If that visit goes ahead, Pelosi would be the highest-level American to visit the Joint Security Area since then-President Donald Trump went there in 2019 for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Located in the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) Demilitarized Zone, a buffer created at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, the JSA is the site of past bloodshed and the site of many conversations. US presidents and other high-ranking officials have frequently traveled to the JSA and other border areas to reaffirm their security commitment to South Korea.

Any critical statement by Pelosi on North Korea is sure to provoke a furious response from Pyongyang. On Wednesday, North Korea’s foreign ministry criticized the United States for its visit to Taiwan, saying “the current situation clearly shows that the US’s brazen interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”

Also Thursday afternoon, Pelosi will speak by phone with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who is on vacation this week, according to Yoon’s office. A face-to-face meeting has not been arranged between them. Yoon, a conservative, took office in May on a promise to strengthen South Korea’s military alliance with the United States and take a tougher stance on North Korean provocations.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the first by a sitting House speaker in 25 years, angered China, which views the island nation as a breakaway province to be annexed by force if necessary. China views visits by foreign officials to Taiwan as recognition of its sovereignty.

Protesters, two of whom wear masks of US President Joe Biden, left, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, stage a rally to oppose planned joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States on the occasion of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits South Korea, outside the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

“The world today faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Pelosi said in a brief speech during a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. “America’s resolve to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad.”

The Biden and Pelosi administrations 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 prevent Pelosi from visiting.

Military drills that China plans to stage in response to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan are due to begin on Thursday and include live firing. They would be the largest aimed at Taiwan since 1995, when China fired missiles in a large-scale exercise to show its displeasure with then-Taiwanese President Li Teng Hui’s visit to the US

China has already sent fighter jets and other military aircraft to Taiwan and has blocked imports of citrus fruits and fish from Taiwan.

Tsai has strongly opposed Beijing’s military exercises, parts of which will enter Taiwanese waters.

“Faced with deliberately increased military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said at her meeting with Pelosi. “We will firmly uphold the sovereignty of our nation and continue to hold the line of defense of democracy.

In Washington, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby tried to allay fears. He said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​on Wednesday that U.S. officials “don’t believe we’re on the brink now, and there’s certainly no reason for anyone to be talking about being on the brink in the future.”

Speaking about Beijing’s threats, Pelosi said she hoped it was clear that while China has prevented Taiwan from attending certain international meetings, “they understand that they will not interfere with people coming to Taiwan as a sign of friendship and support’.

Read more: Pelosi leaves Taiwan — and the world — in a more precarious position

Pelosi noted that congressional support for Taiwan is bipartisan and praised the island’s democracy. She stopped short of saying the US would defend Taiwan militarily and stressed that Congress was “committed to Taiwan’s security so that Taiwan can defend itself most effectively.”

On Thursday, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations called for calm in the Taiwan Strait, urging against any “provocative actions”. ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a regional forum, said they were concerned that the situation could “destabilize the region and could ultimately lead to miscalculations, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among the great powers’.

Pelosi’s focus has always been the same, she said, going back to a 1991 visit to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when she and other lawmakers unfurled a small pro-democracy banner two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters in the square . That visit was also about human rights and what she called dangerous technology transfers to “rogue countries.”

Pelosi’s trip has heightened U.S.-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress because of her position as House leader. The last House Speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.

China and Taiwan, which split in 1949 after a civil war, have no formal relations but multibillion-dollar business ties.

Wu reported from Taipei Taiwan. Associated Press writer David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report

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