Details of Pelosi’s visit were leaked to the media, likely by someone close to the administration, in the hope that an irate China would push Biden into cowing her. “They picked the wrong person,” says Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has worked with Ms Pelosi on China’s human rights record. “She’s someone who can’t be intimidated. She doesn’t give in to bullies.”
Much of the disquiet in Beijing has been about Pelosi’s timing. The Chinese Communist Party will hold its 20th congress this autumn, when Xi is expected to take on a controversial third term as president. Those who know Pelosi, however, privately suggest that among her considerations will have been the optics of her standing up to a global superpower in an effort to burnish her political legacy, with Democrats predicted to lose control of the House in the all-important November midterms.
Back home, the trip has been widely viewed as a success. The grande dame of the Democratic Party is deeply unpopular among Republicans, many of whom see her as an interfering coastal elite pushing a radical domestic agenda. Yet more than two-dozen GOP representatives signed a letter in support of her visit.
“We have enormous disagreements on 98 or 99 percent of things, but on this one, I think her instinct is right,” Newt Gingrich said in a statement. He was the last such senior US politician to visit Taiwan, 25 years ago. Congress has always taken a more hawkish line on Taiwan than the White House, whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge. And Pelosi has worked across party lines with the GOP to pass several big bills, including one to sanction Beijing for selling goods to America made with Uyghur Muslim forced labour.
Her aggressive anti-China stance in Congress has left her walking a careful tightrope with her voting base in San Francisco, where she represents one of the largest Asian-American communities in America. A small group from the US-China Peoples Friendship Association organized protests on Tuesday in the city’s downtown area.
Julie Tang, a retired judge who attended the demonstration, told me Pelosi’s trip was a “very, very bad idea”. A lifelong Democrat, like most Asian-Americans, Tang had contributed to Pelosi’s political campaigns but is now rethinking her party affiliation. The speaker, she said, was “acting like a Republican, like an imperialist”. Anti-Asian attacks are already on the rise in the US and she worries the community will feel any fallout from worsening relations between the two nuclear powers.
David Lee, a political science lecturer in San Francisco, says that in the 35 years that Pelosi has represented the city of 187,000 Chinese- and Taiwanese-Americans, sympathies among her constituents have shifted decisively away from Taiwan independence. But for the most part, Chinese-Americans – most of whom are second, third and even fourth generation – pay little attention to what is happening across the Pacific.
In which case, Pelosi, who regularly garners over 75 per cent support in elections, need not worry too much about the personal cost of her trip. “We love you, Nancy,” reads a sign that a Taiwanese-born merchant has stuck up in an electronics shop in Chinatown this week. “Two more years!”