SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After angering China over her trip to Taiwan, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with South Korean political leaders in Seoul on Thursday, but he avoided making direct public comments on cross-strait relations that could have further heightened regional tensions.
Pelosi, the first House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, said in Taipei on Wednesday that America’s commitment to democracy on the autonomous island and elsewhere “remains steadfast.” In response, China on Thursday began military exercises, which include missile attack training in six areas surrounding Taiwan, in what could be the largest of its kind since the mid-1990s.
After visiting Taiwan, Pelosi and other members of Congress flew to South Korea, a key US ally where some 28,500 US troops are deployed, on Wednesday night as part of an Asian tour that included stops in Singapore and Malaysia. .
On Thursday, he met with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin Pyo and other senior members of Parliament. After that hour-long meeting, Pelosi spoke about the bilateral alliance, forged in blood during the 1950-53 Korean War, and legislative efforts to support a push to boost ties, but did not directly mention his visit to Taiwan nor the Chinese protests.
“We also come to tell you that a friendship, a relationship that began from urgency and security, many years ago, has become the warmest of friendships,” Pelosi said at a joint news conference with Kim. “We want to promote security, economy and governance in an interparliamentary way.”
Neither Pelosi nor Kim answered questions from reporters.
Kim said he and Pelosi shared concerns about rising nuclear threats from North Korea. He said the two agreed to support their governments’ push to establish denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula on the basis of strong deterrence against North Korea and diplomacy.
Later in the day, Pelosi planned to visit an inter-Korean border area that is jointly controlled by the US-led UN Command and North Korea, said a South Korean official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about it. the case. .
If that visit occurs, Pelosi would be the highest-ranking American to go to the Joint Security Area since then-President Donald Trump went there in 2019 for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Sitting inside the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) wide Demilitarized Zone, a buffer created at the end of the Korean War, the JSA is the site of past bloodshed and a venue for numerous conversations. US presidents and other top officials have often traveled to the JSA and other border areas to reaffirm their security commitment to South Korea.
Any statement that Pelosi criticizes North Korea is sure to provoke a furious response from Pyongyang. On Wednesday, North Korea’s foreign ministry criticized the United States for its trip to Taiwan, saying “the current situation clearly shows the blatant interference of the United States in the internal affairs of other countries.”
Pelosi will speak by phone Thursday afternoon with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is on vacation this week, according to Yoon’s office. No face-to-face meeting has been arranged between them. Yoon, a conservative, took office in May vowing to boost South Korea’s military alliance with the United States and take a tougher line against North Korea’s provocations.
Chinese military exercises launched on Thursday involved its navy, air force and other departments and will last until Sunday. They include missile attacks on targets in the seas to the north and south of the island in an echo of the last major Chinese military exercises aimed at intimidating Taiwan’s leaders and voters in 1995 and 1996.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the exercises were joint operations focused on “blockade, assault on sea targets, attack on land targets and airspace control.” Taiwan has put its military on alert and has conducted civil defense exercises, while the United States has numerous naval assets in the area.
China also flew fighter jets and other warplanes into Taiwan and blocked imports of citrus and fish from Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry called the Chinese drills “unreasonable actions in an attempt to change the status quo, destroy peace and stability in the region.”
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has angered China, because it sees the island nation as a breakaway province that it will annex by force if necessary. China views visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as recognition of its sovereignty.
“Today the world is facing a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Pelosi said in a brief speech during a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. “America’s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains unwavering.”
The Biden administration and Pelosi have said the United States remains committed to a 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’s visit.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby tried to quell fears. On Wednesday he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that US officials “don’t think we’re on the brink now, and there’s certainly no reason for anyone to talk about being on the brink in the future.”
Addressing Beijing’s threats, Pelosi said in Taiwan that she hopes it is clear that while China has prevented Taiwan from attending certain international gatherings, “they understand that they will not stand in the way of people who come to Taiwan as a show of respect.” friendship and support.”
Pelosi noted that Congress’s support for Taiwan is bipartisan and praised the island’s democracy. He stopped short of saying the US would defend Taiwan militarily, emphasizing that Congress is “committed to Taiwan’s security, so that Taiwan can most effectively defend itself.”
Tsai firmly rejected Beijing’s military exercises, parts of which will enter Taiwanese waters.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Tsai said in her meeting with Pelosi. “We will firmly defend the sovereignty of our nation and continue to uphold the line of defense of democracy.”
On Thursday, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations called for calm across the Taiwan Strait, urging against any “provocative action.” ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for a regional forum, said they were concerned the situation could “destabilize the region and could eventually lead to miscalculations, serious confrontations, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences between the main powers.
Pelosi’s approach has always been the same, she said, since her 1991 visit to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when she and other lawmakers unfurled a small banner in support of democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters in Square. That visit also touched on human rights and what she called dangerous technology transfers to “rogue countries.”
Pelosi’s trip raised tensions between the United States and China more than visits by other members of Congress due to her position as leader of the House of Representatives. 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 official relations but do have multibillion-dollar trade ties.
Wu reported from Taipei Taiwan.
Associated Press writer David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.