CNN

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her trip to Taiwan was intended to make it “unequivocally clear” that the United States would “not abandon” the democratically governed island.

“We are proud of our enduring friendship,” said Pelosi, speaking alongside Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei on Wednesday morning local time.

“Now more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial and that is the message we are bringing here today,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s speech came soon after Tsai praised the speaker’s long commitment to democracy and human rights and bestowed on her Taiwan’s highest civilian honor, the “Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon.”

“I look forward to displaying this award in the Speaker’s Office, or wearing it there, at the Capitol as a symbol of our treasured friendship,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s visit is the first time in 25 years that a US House Speaker has visited Taiwan, a self-governing island, which China claims as part of its territory.

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.

China’s military – the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA – announced it was conducting military exercises from Thursday to Sunday in response to Pelosi’s visit, including joint air and sea drills and live-fire exercises.

Tsai on Wednesday thanked Pelosi for visiting the self-ruled island, and said Taipei would do “whatever it takes” to strengthen its self-defense capability.

“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said at the presidential office in Taipei. “We will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy. At the same time, we wish to cooperate and work in unity with all democracies around the world to jointly safeguard democratic values.”

Tsai said she is committed to “maintaining peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait and vowed to make Taiwan a “key stabilizing force” for regional security and the development of global trade.

Earlier Wednesday, Pelosi praised Taiwan as “one of the freest societies in the world” in her first public remarks since becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the island in 25 years.

Pelosi and the US congressional delegation she is leading also met members of the Taiwanese Parliament, exchanging pleasantries with Taiwan’s Deputy Speaker Tsai Chi-chang before a closed-door meeting.

“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 US congressional delegation’s visit represents “the strongest defense and consolidation of the value of democracy and freedom.”

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

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 US 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 US policy towards 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 US 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 the first speaker to travel to Taiwan in 25 years, writing that the US 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.

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