WASHINGTON — In 1991, three lower-ranking House members were encouraged by a Chinese dissident they visited in Hong Kong on a bipartisan trip to Asia, and they arrived in Beijing to address government opposition and victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. expressed solidarity.
They quickly embraced the bold idea.
“We all nodded in agreement at the same time,” recalled then-D-Georgia congressman Ben Jones, who was traveling with Republican John Miller from Washington and then-up-and-coming Democrat Nancy Pelosi. california.
Three American tourists sneaked into the huge square where the rebellion was brutally suppressed two years ago, unfolding banners provided by dissidents and smuggled to the mainland by Mr Jones.
“To those who died for Chinese democracy,” read a message embroidered in Chinese and English.
The brazen performance drew a swift police response and a diplomatic spat — though not on the scale of the international uproar that sparked Tuesday’s visit to Taiwan by Ms. Pelosi, now House speaker.
But the two incidents are linked to Pelosi’s longstanding activism toward China. Her current conflict is only the latest in a more than three-year career challenging the Chinese government on human rights and other issues. It’s another example of Washington’s most powerful woman not shunning what she thinks is worth fighting for.
Her allies say they would be dead wrong if someone leaked her travel plans, hoping that angry pushback from the Chinese government or concerns expressed by the Biden White House would prevent her from going.
“They picked the wrong person,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who has worked with Ms. Pelosi on human rights in China and visited there with her. “She’s someone who can’t be intimidated. She doesn’t give in to bullies.”
While her refusal to abandon the visit in the face of threats from China and unease in the White House struck some as reckless, the visit is in line with Ms. Pelosi’s ingrained position that China must be held to account for its attitudes toward Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as its Treatment of Uyghurs and incarceration of political activists.
It’s also a hallmark of the California Democrat, whose work makes her second in line to the presidency. She rarely flinched at the public threats of her opponents, sometimes going out of their way to remind them of the stiffness of her spine.
Pelosi, 82, who has said she will step down as speaker when this Congress ends, is also focusing on her legacy, which includes an unapologetic stance on China.
Since the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Ms. Pelosi has insisted that the economic interests of the U.S. relationship with China cannot be allowed to obscure its human rights record or prevent strong criticism from the nation’s leaders.
“If we don’t speak up for human rights in China because of economic problems, then we lose the moral authority to talk about human rights anywhere else in the world,” Ms. Pelosi said last year as she celebrated the Human Rights Council’s 32nd anniversary. Tiananmen Massacre.
She has frequently pushed for legislation on behalf of Hong Kong and Tibet; hosted the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Capitol Hill; and called for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. She has repeatedly broken with Mr. Clinton, who pushed and maintained China’s preferential trade status, a policy he said could improve China’s human rights through international engagement. Ms Pelosi strongly disagreed.
“By supporting the policies of the Chinese government, the United States is actually supporting the containment of the Chinese people, their hopes and aspirations,” Ms. Pelosi said in 1997 when she was in charge of the Clinton White House.
China noted her frequent criticism. Following her call for a boycott of the Olympics last year, a foreign ministry official accused her of “smearing China”, spreading “lies and false information” and playing “despicable political games” under the pretext of human rights.
in a opinion piece Ms. Pelosi, published in The Washington Post on Tuesday, reminded readers of her trip to Tiananmen Square 30 years ago.
“Since then,” Ms. Pelosi wrote, “Beijing’s poor human rights record and disregard for the rule of law have continued as President Xi Jinping tightened his grip on power.”
Allies noted that Ms. Pelosi’s stance on China has benefited not only from Asian voters in her San Francisco district, but also from her long service on the House Intelligence Committee, including as chair.
“It’s a continuation of her 33 years of work and leadership,” said Carolyn Bartholomew, Ms. Pelosi’s former chief of staff and now a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Given her history in China, it was not surprising to her lawmakers that she decided to continue her trip despite warnings from Chinese and American officials.
“It didn’t happen out of the blue,” Mr McGovern said. “This has been an issue for her every day in the U.S. Congress. She is an extraordinary human rights defender.”
She also has strong support from Republicans — often her harshest critics — who praised her decision to carry out her plan to visit Taiwan and said she would not go after the Chinese government threatened retaliation if she arrived in Taipei. No choice.
“I’m going to use four words in a row that I haven’t used before: ‘Speaker Pelosi is right,'” declared Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Republican leadership. He added “It’s a good point for us to point out that Taiwan is important to democracy, that Taiwan is important to our national security, that Taiwan is important to our economy.” “And I doubt others will follow Pello’s lead. An example for the Speaker of the West.”
Privately, some Democrats have complained about the timing of the visit, which has been delayed from April after the speaker tested positive for the coronavirus. The outrage, they say, is diverting attention away from some of the Democrats’ successes in Congress and appears to reflect a desire to command the world stage with her limited time as a speaker.
But those most familiar with Pelosi’s views on China said it had little to do with the politics of the time.
“She’s very strong on human rights,” said Mr. Jones, a former television actor who served two terms in the House of Representatives, who opened a 30-year-old opening in Tiananmen Square with Ms. Pelosi at his Virginia home. Protest banners remain. “I have full respect for her because it does take courage.”