WASHINGTON (AFP) – US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a long history of riling Beijing over democracy and human rights, whether by unveiling a banner on Tiananmen Square or in regular meetings with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Pelosi, the country’s most powerful lawmaker, stoked fresh tensions in US-China relations on Tuesday (Aug 2) when she flew into Taiwan, the highest-ranked elected US official to visit the island in 25 years.

But it was only the most recent act to nettle China by the powerful 82-year-old lawmaker, who is second in line to the US presidency. Pelosi has taken every opportunity over a long career to goad Beijing for what she calls a dismal record on human rights and democracy.

As a junior congresswoman, just two years into her career, she was highly vocal about the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown on pro-Democracy demonstrators in Beijing.

She called it a shocking “massacre” and accused Chinese security services of conducting “secret executions.”

“The human rights of the people in China are not an internal matter. They are of concern to people all over the world,” she declared.

Since then, Pelosi has regularly needled Beijing’s leadership – frequently meeting political and religious dissidents, as well as the Dalai Lama, and labelling the treatment of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region “genocide.”

Two years after the Tiananmen crackdown, she visited China with two other members of Congress on an official invitation.

She irked her hosts by visiting the famed square, placing flowers at a martyrs memorial with a banner that read: “To those who died for democracy in China.”

After Chinese police briefly detained the American legislators, she told reporters: “We’ve been told for two days now that there is freedom of speech in China. This does not conform to what we were told.”

Determined to call out Beijing

Her actions are good politics – she represents San Francisco, home to a large Chinese population, which in the 1980s was dominated by people who had fled communist China, or had roots in the much freer Taiwan and Hong Kong.

But after 35 years, Pelosi has proven herself a consistent defender of human rights in China, and shows little regard for how her actions impact diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing.