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How Taiwan reacted to Pelosi’s visit, from ‘welcome’ to ‘American witch’

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/3/2022 Lily Kuo, Karina Tsui
People walk past a billboard welcoming Nancy Pelosi, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Aug. 3, 2022. © Chiang Ying-Ying/AP People walk past a billboard welcoming Nancy Pelosi, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Aug. 3, 2022.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — There were signs that Taiwanese people were both thrilled and anxious about Nancy Pelosi’s visit during the roughly 18 hours she and other U.S. lawmakers spent on the island.

“The more unhappy the [Chinese Communist Party] is, the happier I am,” Ingrid Ho, 35, a Taipei resident, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “Pelosi coming may mean all kinds of consequences but in the moment, the excitement outweighs reason.”

Ho, like many of Taiwan’s 23 million citizens, has lived with China’s threats for decades. “Maybe it’s that Taiwanese people are used to being scared,” Ho said. “We are at the center of this conflict, but somehow I still feel like a bystander — just curious how this will turn out.”

The Taipei 101 building lit up with a message reading "TW hearts US" as a welcome sign for Nancy Pelosi's visit, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Aug. 2, 2022. © Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg The Taipei 101 building lit up with a message reading "TW hearts US" as a welcome sign for Nancy Pelosi's visit, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Aug. 2, 2022.

Pelosi has been a longtime critic of the Chinese Communist Party, winning her fans among those who support Taiwan’s independence. In 1991, Pelosi visited Beijing and held up a black-and-white banner in Tiananmen Square to commemorate victims of the 1989 massacre that read: “To those who died for democracy.” In recent years, she has been an avid supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

At Taipei Songshan Airport on Tuesday, a small group of supporters waited to greet Pelosi — and the atmosphere felt “like the countdown to the new year,” Lin Ching-yi, a lawmaker from Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, wrote on Facebook.

“I’m very happy that Speaker Pelosi came to show her support,” said Liu Yueh-hsia, 72, holding a banner that read, “Speaker Pelosi, welcome to the Republic of Taiwan.”

Liu, who has been advocating for Taiwan’s formal independence for decades, added: “We have nothing to do with China. We don’t want to be unified with them.”

Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper, was lit up with welcome messages for Pelosi in English and Chinese.

Demonstrators hold signs during a gathering in support of Nancy Pelosi's expected visit, in Taipei, Taiwan, on August 2, 2022. © Ann Wang/Reuters Demonstrators hold signs during a gathering in support of Nancy Pelosi's expected visit, in Taipei, Taiwan, on August 2, 2022.

Elsewhere on the island, however, small groups of protesters, including those who support unification with China, stomped on American flags and held up signs disparaging Pelosi and urging the U.S. delegation to go home. One held up a sign calling Pelosi an “American witch.”

At a news conference with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, Pelosi was asked what she could offer Taiwan to offset the possible costs the island would incur — including economic retaliation from China — as a consequence of her visit.

She answered that her visit was part of a broader U.S. effort to have “better economic exchanges” with Taiwan, and she said “significant” Taiwanese businesses are already planning to invest in manufacturing in the United States.” She also praised “the ingenuity, the entrepreneurial spirit, the brainpower, the intellectual resource that exists in Taiwan,” and called the island’s tech sector “a model.”

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White House spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that “China has positioned itself to take further steps” as a result of Pelosi’s visit — which could include more military drills near Taiwan and “economic coercion” measures, he said. “We expect that they will continue to react over a longer-term horizon,” he added.

On Thursday, China blacklisted two Taiwanese nonprofits affiliated with Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, a move that local reports say is a response to Pelosi’s visit. “Beijing’s bullying would achieve nothing except arouse the antipathy of Taiwanese toward China,” Lai Jui-lung, a legislator in Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, told the Taipei Times. “We urge the communist regime in China to stop before it falls into an abyss.”

Though most Taiwanese believe that war is the last thing China wants, some are still worried about the short-term consequences of the visit.

Zamake Chang, 30, an engineer from Taoyuan, said Wednesday that he spent the day looking at flights from Taiwan’s main airport to see whether any have been disrupted. “I’m supposed to travel abroad soon, and I’m quite worried that Chinese military maneuvers will blockade us, and I won’t be able to go,” he said.

“Before the Ukraine war started, people also said Russia won’t invade,” he added. “Historically, there have been many wars that started suddenly. So really, it’s pretty tense now.”

Annabelle Timsit, Vic Chiang and Pei-Lin Wu contributed to this report.

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