When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taipei late Tuesday night, she became the highest ranking American official to visit the island democracy in 25 years. She did so, despite Beijing warning of "resolute and strong measures" if Pelosi proceeded with the trip. The California Democrat has now departed Taiwan after reassuring Taiwan's leaders that America's commitment to preserving democracy there and elsewhere "remains ironclad."
Her visit – as The Associated Press explains – triggered increased tension between the People's Republic of China and the U.S. because Beijing claims the island nation as part of its territory; and the communist regime interprets visits to officials of foreign governments as recognition of Taiwan's sovereignty.
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the visit as "a serious violation of the one-China principle [that] has a severe impact" on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations.
"There is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory, and the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China," the ministry office wrote.
Fox News reported late Tuesday that four U.S. Navy warships were operating east of Taiwan in what military officials said are standard military drills amid the heightened tensions with Beijing.
If push comes to shove …
Retired Navy Commander Kirk Lippold believes the Chinese are prepared to follow up on their statement that the PRC's military will "never sit idly by."
"I think there is a growing possibility that there will be an event that will drive us to get serious – and I think that event is going to come when China starts to push," he predicts. "They're going to use their navy in a manner that is going to attempt to restrict our free access to the seas."
Lippold says the primary area of concern is the South China Sea – and he's convinced China aims to restrict the United States' movements in that area.
"You have to remember that two-thirds of the world's economies travel through the South China Sea to supply the world," he tells AFN. "So, China [cannot] restrict our ability and our Navy's ability [to transit through there] – because a navy exists to ensure that the economies of the world can operate unfettered and with freedom of navigation on the oceans anywhere in the world."
The retired naval officer is adamant that the U.S. should never feel restricted what it wants to do when other nations attempt to do so – especially nations like China or Russia or Iran. "We should never be threatened or intimidated by those nations – ever," he emphasizes.
Lippold was commander of the USS Cole when it came under a terrorist attack in 2000 while in the port of Aden, Yemen.