Most Tracked Flight In History: Here's Why US House Speaker's Plane Got The World Watching
The world is holding its breath with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the Indo-Pacific region, especially to Taiwan.
Her visit to the island nation yesterday, 2 August, marks the highest-ranking US politician to visit in 25 years, inevitably raising US-China tensions to a dangerous level.
Somehow, in the midst of all this, Malaysia is involved in the global event.
It is not just because of Pelosi's visit to Malaysia, but of the fact that the US politician flew to Taiwan from Kuala Lumpur.
Despite China's strong warnings to the US, Pelosi flew southeast towards Borneo before turning north in the direction of the Philippines and heading towards Taiwan, reported The Straits Times.
The roundabout path — an indirect flight route — avoided the South China Sea, where China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has held various exercises since last week.
1. Pelosi is currently leading a Congressional delegation to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan
The four countries are the confirmed countries that Pelosi, the third in the line of US presidential succession, would visit, according to her office last Sunday, 31 July, reported Al-Jazeera.
Taiwan was not mentioned in her Asia tour.
"The trip will focus on mutual security, economic partnership, and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region," her office said in a press release.
Her visit to Malaysia was welcomed by Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon and US Ambassador to Malaysia Brian D McFeeters, reported Bernama.
She met Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun at the Parliament building yesterday, before leaving to meet Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob for lunch at a hotel, reported Astro Awani.
Malaysia was the second country Pelosi visited, with the first being Singapore.
2. Pelosi flies in a militarised commercial aircraft
According to DNA India, Pelosi flies in SPAR19, a US Air Force C-40.
The plane is said to be a VIP transport aircraft often used to carry members of the Cabinet and Congress.
It is designed to be an 'office in the sky' based on the Boeing 737-300 commercial airliner, but is militarised.
Reuters reported that the US military had moved four warships, including an aircraft carrier, to the east of Taiwan, the side facing China.
It is understood that the Japan-based carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, is operating with a guided missile cruiser, USS Antietam, and a destroyer, USS Higgins.
Nexta, a Belarusian digital media outlet, reported that Taiwan prepared eight French-made Mirage 2000 fighter jets to escort Pelosi's flight into Taiwan's airspace.
Prior to her flight to Taiwan, Insider reported a propagandist for the Chinese government as saying that Pelosi's flight could be gunned down by the Chinese military.
3. Pelosi's flight from Kuala Lumpur to Taiwan has become the most tracked flight in history
According to Flightradar24, Pelosi's SPAR19 lifted off Kuala Lumpur at 3.42pm local time.
"By the time it landed in Taipei, SPAR19 was being tracked by more than 708,000 people around the world, making it the most tracked live flight in Flightradar24 history," said the site, a Swedish Internet-based service that shows real-time aircraft flight tracking information on a map.
"Over the seven hours from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei, a total of 2.92 million people followed at least a portion of the flight."
Unknown to the public whether the militarised aircraft would take an indirect flight path, more than 200,000 people watched SPAR19 fly from Kuala Lumpur to Indonesia's direction before it turned and headed towards Taiwan.
The L-shaped flight path took seven hours to complete. According to Skyscanner, the trip normally takes 4 hours and 30 minutes when it is flown in a straight line.
4. China has mobilised its warplanes and flies them close to Taiwan's airspace
According to Financial Times, China ratcheted up military activity around Taiwan ahead of Pelosi's visit yesterday.
A Taiwanese official briefing the public about the development said that several Chinese fighter jets flew close to the median line that divides the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning.
It can be seen as a reminder to Taipei that Beijing's air force could reach the island in a matter of minutes.
Such military drills are not uncommon. Over the years, China has always tried to send its warplanes close to Taiwan's airspace.
BBC reported on 5 October 2021 that an estimated 150 Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan's air defence zone. The news came less than a week before Taiwan celebrated its national day on 10 October.
Other than the military scare, on Tuesday, the Taiwanese government was faced with cybersecurity attacks as well. The website of the Taiwanese presidency's office was shut down for 20 minutes.
5. On Taiwanese soil, Pelosi has pledged US solidarity with Taiwan
Despite the elaborate military drills by China, the US House Speaker has pledged America's "crucial" solidarity with Taiwan after meeting Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, reported The Guardian.
Pelosi questioned Chinese president Xi Jinping about his strong response to her visit to Taiwan during a press conference joined by Tsai.
"It's really important for the message to be clear... (the US) is committed to the security of Taiwan... but it's about our shared values of democracy and freedom and how Taiwan has been an example to the world... Whether there are insecurities of the Chinese President relating to his own political situation, I don't know," said the 82-year-old leader.
"Our delegation came to Taiwan to make it unequivocally clear we will not abandon Taiwan, and we are proud of our enduring friendship."
Since her visit, China has vowed "consequences" and has said it will begin live fire drills close to Taiwan tomorrow, 4 August.
Meanwhile, Tsai slammed China for its "unnecessary" military drills, but China defended them as "necessary and just", reported Al-Jazeera.
China considers Taiwan as its own and is on a mission for "peaceful reunification".
The US is an ally of Taiwan and President Joe Biden said in May that it would defend Taiwan if China ever invades the island nation, reported NBC News.
When then US president Barack Obama visited Malaysia in 2016, his limousine caught many Malaysians' attention: