House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lands in Taiwan House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is making an unannounced, but widely anticipated, stop in Taiwan. The move is expected to increase already heightened tensions between the U.S. and China.

Pelosi has landed in Taiwan. Here's why that's a big deal

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is visiting Taiwan during a tour of Asian nations in spite of warnings from Beijing at a time of high tensions between the U.S. and China. As NPR's Barbara Sprunt reports, Pelosi is no stranger to defying and criticizing the Chinese government.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Eighteen days after Chinese troops massacred protesters calling for democratic reform in Tiananmen Square in 1989, a group of U.S. lawmakers condemned the violence. Nancy Pelosi of California was one of them.

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NANCY PELOSI: The human rights of the people in China are not an internal matter, that they're of concern to people all over the world and especially to the members of Congress here.

SPRUNT: Two years later, Pelosi observed the anniversary of the massacre at a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol. She held up a watch she said was smuggled out of China that had been a gift from the Chinese Communist Party to the soldiers who participated in the crushing of the protests.

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PELOSI: What this watch says is that time is running out for the regressive regime in China.

SPRUNT: Months later, she visited Tiananmen Square as part of a small congressional delegation. She unfurled a banner that read, quote, "to those who died for democracy in China." The move triggered a brief confrontation with police, which CBS captured.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As they laid three white flowers at the foot of the monument to martyrs, Beijing police moved in. They ordered the Congress members to stop the ceremony.

SPRUNT: And so began a congressional tenure marked by Pelosi's tough stance on China and strong advocacy for human rights, which at times has put her at odds with leaders of both parties in the U.S. Over the years, she's opposed China's bid to host the Olympics, has met with Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and has been active in creating paths for Chinese political prisoners to come to the U.S. Last year, she oversaw the House approval of legislation imposing economic sanctions on China for goods from the forced labor of Muslim Uyghurs. She didn't mince words about where she stands.

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PELOSI: I take second place to no one in the Congress in my criticism of China's human rights record.

SPRUNT: Now, she's in Taiwan, an island democracy that governs itself, but that China claims as its territory. The Chinese government views American support for Taiwan as interfering in its own sovereignty. In July, Pelosi said it's important to show support for Taiwan.

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PELOSI: None of us has ever said we're for independence when it comes to Taiwan. That's up to Taiwan to decide.

SPRUNT: Thirty-one years after Pelosi defied Beijing in Tiananmen Square, she does so again, this time as speaker of the House. She's the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. The Chinese government swiftly condemned her visit. Barbara Sprunt, NPR News, Washington.

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