House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not have any apparent plans to visit the island democracy of Taiwan after Chinese diplomats threatened ‘unbearable consequences’ if she visited the self-ruled island under Chinese occupation.
In a press release on Sunday, her office said she would visit four Asian countries — but Taiwan was not on the list.
‘Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a Congressional delegation to the Indo-Pacific region, including visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan,’ the press release read.
It specified that the visit would include those countries, but did not specify whether Pelosi — who is number three in the line of presidential succession — might make other stops.
‘The trip will focus on mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region,’ it said.
‘In Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, our delegation will hold high-level meetings to discuss how we can further advance our shared interests and values, including peace and security, economic growth and trade, the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, human rights and democratic governance.’
She is said to be arriving in Singapore first on Monday, where she will spend two days. according to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But her trip has been met with much scrutiny by Chinese officials, who have warned that Washington would ‘bear all the consequences’ if Pelosi did visit Taiwan and have threatened to take ‘resolute and forceful measures’ against the US if the trip goes ahead.
And in its latest remarks, Chinese officials have warned that all options, including military ones, are already on the table if Pelosi does go through with the trip, according to Zhang Meifang, the Consul General of China in Belfast.
The authoritarian country views visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp in the island.
Under its one-China policy, Washington does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is bound by U.S. law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
The White House has been quick to reiterate that stance has not changed despite speculation over Pelosi making the trip.
‘If the US pushes ahead and challenges China’s bottom line… the US side will bear all the consequences arising therefrom,’ Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press conference.
He had previously expressed China’s ‘solemn position’ over a potential Pelosi visit, telling reporters that China is prepared to ‘take firm and strong measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.’
Chinese air force spokesman Shen Jinke was also quoted by state media as saying on Sunday that Beijing would ‘resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity’.
Shen said at a military airshow that the air force has many types of fighter jets capable of circling ‘the precious island of our motherland’, referring to Taiwan.
He said China’s ‘air force has the firm will, full confidence and sufficient capability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.’
And a comment by a People’s Liberation Army unit on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media, on Friday – ‘Prepare for war!’ – received 1.87 million thumbs-ups.
On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, that Washington should abide by the one-China principle and ‘those who play with fire will perish by it’.
Biden, in turn, told Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, where 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion by China.
Still, officials on both sides have been gearing up for a possible confrontation.
When U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group returned to the South China Sea by Thursday, Chinese military ramped up exercises in the vicinity.
And on Saturday, Chinese military held live-firing drills in the waters off Fujian province, 62 miles away from Taiwan, according to local authorities.
Chinese coast guard will hold an exercise in the South China Sea off Guangzhou province on Monday, according to another notice by the Maritime Safety Administration.
Prominent Chinese commentator Hu Xijin said on Saturday he deleted a tweet warning of military retaliation should U.S. fighter jets escort Pelosi on a Taiwan visit, after Twitter blocked his account.
And Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said this week that the number of intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with U.S. and other partner forces has increased significantly over the past five years.
He said Beijing’s military has become far more aggressive and dangerous, and that the number of unsafe interactions has risen by similar proportions.
Those include reports of Chinese fighter jets flying so close to a Canadian air security patrol last month that the Canadian pilot had to swerve to avoid collision, and another close call with an Australian surveillance flight in late May in which the Chinese crew released a flurry of metal scraps that were sucked into the other plane’s engine.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, have said the administration doubts that China would take direct action against Pelosi herself or try to sabotage the visit.
But they don’t rule out the possibility that China could escalate provocative overflights of military aircraft in or near Taiwanese airspace and naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait should the trip take place. And they don’t preclude Chinese actions elsewhere in the region as a show of strength.
‘It could be an air collision. It could be some sort of missile test, and, again, when you’re doing those types of things, you know, there is always the possibility that something could go wrong,’ Mark Cozad, acting associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp.
As a result, U.S. military officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have said it would increase its movement of forces and assets into the Indo-Pacific region if Pelosi does decide to visit Taiwan.
The officials declined to provide details of their plans, but said that fighter jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would likely be used to provide overlapping rings of protection for her flight to Taiwan and any time on the ground there, increasing the troops that are already in the area.
They also described the need to create buffer zones around the speaker and her plane and are reportedly considering deploying a multi-domain task force that would utilize missile, electronic and cyber capabilities in an integrated manner in Asia, according to the Japanese news outlet Nikkei News.
They also said that a stepped-up U.S. military presence to safeguard Pelosi risked raising tensions.
‘It is very possible that our attempts to deter actually send a much different signal than the one we intend to send,’ Cozad said.
‘And so you get into some sort of an escalatory spiral, where our attempts to deter are actually seen as increasingly provocative and vice versa. And that can be a very dangerous dynamic.’
On Wednesday, Biden told reporters he thought the U.S. military believed a Pelosi visit to Taiwan was ‘not a good idea right now’.
The Asian tour comes at a politically sensitive time for Chinese and U.S. leaders.
Xi is expected to seek a precedent-breaking third term at a Congress later this year, while in the United States, Biden’s Democratic Party will face a hard fight to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives at November’s midterm elections.
China and Taiwan have a long-standing dispute over the island’s sovereignty.
China considers Taiwan as a part of its territory, more precisely a province, but many Taiwanese want the island to be independent.
From 1683 to 1895, Taiwan was ruled by China’s Qing dynasty. After Japan claimed its victory in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Qing government forced to cede Taiwan to Japan.
The island was under the Republic of China’s ruling after World War II, with the consent of its allies the US and UK.
The leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan in 1949 and established his government after losing the Civil War to the Communist Party and its leader Mao Zedong.
Chiang’s son continued to rule Taiwan after his father and began democratising Taiwan.
In 1980, China put forward a formula called ‘one country, two systems’, under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy if it accepted Chinese reunification. Taiwan rejected the offer.
Taiwan today, with its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders, is widely accepted in the West as an independent state. But its political status remains unclear.