US House Speaker Pelosi hints gender is real reason China is mad at Taiwan trip

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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted she had attracted China’s ire this week not for becoming the highest ranking US official to visit Taiwan in a quarter century, but because she’s a woman.

At an event with President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on Wednesday, Pelosi noted that several US senators, including chair of the foreign relations committee, Democrat Bob Menendez, had visited the self-ruled island China claims as its territory this year without drawing a firestorm of criticism from Beijing.

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“They made a big fuss because I’m the Speaker, I guess. I don’t know if that was a reason or an excuse,” she said. “Because they didn’t say anything when the men came.”

President Xi Jinping told President Joe Biden last week that “whoever plays with fire will get burned” on the issue of Taiwan, while the Foreign Ministry warned the People’s Liberation Army would not sit by “idly” if Pelosi visited.

In the face of such opposition, Pelosi, 82, said her meeting with Tsai was a moment to take “pride in women’s leadership,” noting that both politicians had smashed the glass ceilings in their respective governments.

“It’s a great pride for us today, the first woman speaker in the House meeting the first woman president of Taiwan. We have some enthusiasm for that,” said Pelosi, who became the first House of Representatives speaker in 2007. Tsai was elected in 2016.

In her speech, Pelosi also threw a spotlight on Democratic congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who is traveling in her delegation, as well as Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei. Other prominent women leaders in Taiwan’s government include Economic Affairs Minister Wang Mei-hua, and Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim.

Taiwan’s elevation of female politicians contrasts sharply with China’s entrenched patriarchy, where no woman has ever been admitted into the ruling Communist Party’s innermost sanctum of power, the Standing Committee -- a seven-member boys’ club.

Sun Chunlan, 72, is China’s sole woman on its powerful 25-member Politburo. She’s set to retire this year.

For her part, Tsai did not reference gender during the public briefings on Wednesday. Instead, she reserved her gratitude for Pelosi’s long-standing commitment to “safeguarding freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

The Taiwanese leader has previously pushed back against being labeled a “female politician.” At the Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit in 2019, she said: “I will not stop until the term ‘female president’ is a thing of the past,” while acknowledging her platform conferred a duty to “to push for women’s empowerment at home and abroad.”

Regardless of gender, Pelosi said she hoped her trip had proved a broader point about who can visit the island. Beijing regularly protests foreign officials’ trips to Taipei as a violation of diplomatic agreements to avoid formal recognition of Taiwan.

“I just hope that it’s really clear that while China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating and going to certain meetings,” she said, “that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan.”

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