TAIPEI, Taiwan — News media and crowds gathered at Taipei airport on Tuesday to hear the arrival of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the United States’ top official who has been visiting Taiwan for 25 years.
Huang Chao-yuan, a 53-year-old business owner, staked out the area near Songshan Airport to watch Ms Pelosi’s plane land and called the speaker’s visit a “historic moment”.
“I’m very happy about your visit today because it’s an example that shows the United States doesn’t have to argue with the CCP, they can come here if they want, and anyone invited by Taiwan can come here.” said Ms. Huang. using the acronym for the Chinese Communist Party. “This incident shows Taiwan’s independence.”
Henry Chang, 32, a videographer who was at the airport to witness Ms. Pelosi’s landing, marveled at the novelty of seeing the arrival of such a high-profile US lawmaker.
“It felt like catching a rare Pokemon,” he said.
He said he was not concerned that the visit could lead to a military conflict. “I feel like a war just couldn’t happen – everyone is going to get on with their lives,” he said.
A video provided by a Tibetan activist, Tashi Tsering, showed people gathering outside the Grand Hyatt Taipei where Ms. Pelosi was scheduled to spend the night on Tuesday night. Some of them held up banners that read, “Taiwan Public Salutes US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” “Taiwan Helps,” and “Taiwan ≠ China.”
Outside the hotel, several dozen people supporting unification with China protested Ms. Pelosi’s visit: some called on her to “come out of Taiwan” and some held banners denouncing her.
“I feel bittersweet watching Pelosi’s landing,” said one man in the crowd, Sam Lin, the owner of a recycling company. “It is sad to see the rising tensions across the Straits, but I am also pleased to see that our reunification with China is becoming increasingly feasible.”
Mr. Lin, 50, added, “I don’t want to see war, but the current cross-strait relations have entered a new stage.”
In contrast to the protest, in the capital’s central business district, Taipei 101 – once the world’s tallest building and a major landmark on the city’s skyline – was illuminated with messages welcoming Ms. Pelosi.
In Taiwan, many are used to threats from China, which claims the island as its own territory. A standoff between Washington and Beijing over the speaker’s trip drew muted attention before Tuesday. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen remained silent in the days leading up to Ms Pelosi’s arrival, although political advisers close to her said they would welcome visits from US officials.
In a sign of how many in Taiwan have grown weary of China’s threats, Alexander Huang, a senior official with the pro-China Kuomintang, said he welcomed Ms Pelosi’s visit and said she had a “rich” schedule ahead of the island.
According to a Taiwanese lawmaker and a local official, Ms. Pelosi is scheduled to visit the Taiwan Legislature and meet with President Tsai Ing-wen during her visit. She will also attend a banquet at Taipei Guest House and visit the National Human Rights Museum.
Mr Huang said the low-key approach to the visit reflected planning aimed at avoiding worsening an already tense situation with China.
“They made no statement to the outside world and tried not to upset the other side, and they did their best not to make the situation in the Taiwan Strait too tense,” he said.
He said he was most concerned about mainland China’s military response – particularly what China might do after Ms Pelosi left. He said it’s possible China might take steps to further isolate Taiwan internationally. In recent years, China has lured away several nations recognizing Taiwan as a country, cutting it off from major international organizations like the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, Taiwan’s military said it would step up combat readiness in anticipation of a possible Chinese response.