Why has Nancy Pelosi’s surprise trip to Taiwan sparked so much online interest?

Thousands of people took to the Internet on Tuesday night to monitor a flight carrying US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

Flight tracker Flightradar24 said more than 708,000 people followed the plane’s route, making it “the most tracked live flight ever”.

FlightRadar has been forced to set up a waiting room to ensure that the website is not down due to the increase in internet traffic.

Meanwhile, millions of people watched the live broadcast of the event on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform.

Why did Nancy Pelosi’s trip get so much attention? First, it is the first high-ranking US female politician to visit Taiwan in more than 25 years.

Furthermore, this visit has been omitted from an official press release detailing which countries her Congressional delegation will visit in the Indo-Pacific region.

After Pelosi’s visit, Beijing said its government would respond with “resolute, strong and effective” action.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory and insists that the democratic island accept its claim that it is part of China, whose only legitimate government is located in Beijing.

In the face of Chinese military threats and a determined campaign to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, islanders overwhelmingly support the status quo of de facto independence.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the trip “has a serious impact on the political foundation of China-US relations, and seriously violates China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

China said it has begun exercises involving warplanes, naval ships and missile strikes in six regions, just 20 kilometers from the island’s coast, which could be a violation of Taiwan’s territorial waters.

The exercises are believed to be the largest and most threatening to Taiwan since Beijing launched missiles into the waters north and south of the island in 1995 and 1996 in response to a visit by then US President Lee Teng-hui.

China regularly sends warplanes into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone, and has at times crossed the middle line of the Taiwan Strait that divides the two sides, but it has stopped short of direct raids or attacks that could lead to a regional conflict.

Pelosi’s visit came at a particularly sensitive time. Chinese President and Armed Forces Commander Xi Jinping is preparing for a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

Xi has warned that Taiwan’s fate cannot remain unstable indefinitely while US military officials have said China may seek a military solution within the next few years.

Beijing has also imposed trade restrictions, banning imports of fish and fruit from Taiwan into the mainland since the visit.

The moves have angered Taiwanese officials, who accuse Beijing of “vicious intimidation”.

“The People’s Republic of China’s announcement of air and sea live-fire exercises around Taiwan is very clear that it is seeking a cross-strait solution by force rather than peaceful means,” Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense wrote on Twitter.

Moreover, some Taiwanese government websites have been the target of cyber-attacks, and went out of business for a few minutes on Tuesday.

Taiwan has put its army on alert and is conducting civil defense exercises.

While its air force, navy, and armed forces of 165,000 are a small fraction of China’s size, they are augmented with high-tech weaponry and early warning systems designed to make a potential invasion as difficult as possible.

The Russian attack on Ukraine, tacitly supported by China, was a wake-up call for Taipei, which is now looking to overhaul its training and tactics.

Several other US naval and military assets are currently deployed in areas near Taiwan, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group.

Washington has comprehensively rejected China’s claims that the Taiwan Strait is sovereign Chinese territory and reserves the right to sail through Chinese outposts in the South China Sea, despite Chinese protests.

This visit was so controversial that even the White House advised against it.

According to Politico, US President Joe Biden said the military believed it was “not a good idea.”

However, the 82-year-old politician defended her visit before leaving on Wednesday night, writing on Twitter that the trip “honours America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy.”

Pelosi said the United States would not abandon Taiwan despite the mainland’s condemnation.

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