Amid increasingly hostile threats from China, news outlets are reporting that Nancy Pelosi will go ahead with a visit to Taiwan despite efforts from the Biden administration to warn her off the stop.
Tingting Liu, a foreign affairs correspondent with the Taiwanese news channel TVBS, reported that sources had told her Pelosi will be arriving in the capital Taipei on Tuesday night. CNN also reported that the visit is expected to go ahead, citing a senior Taiwanese government official and a US official.
Taiwan’s government has not publicly commented on the reports.
Should Pelosi include Taiwan in her tour of Asia, it would be the first visit of a US House speaker in a quarter of a century. Beijing, which claims the self-governing island as its own province, has made clear it would see such a move as an unacceptable provocation.
China on Monday stepped up its warning, saying that its military would “not sit idly by” if the visit happened.
The US official told CNN that in the face of that admonition the Pentagon was “working around the clock” to monitor any Chinese movements in the region.
Pelosi’s potential visit at a time of heightened tension with China is a fraught matter for both the US and Chinese. As House speaker, she is third in line for the presidency after Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris.
From the Chinese perspective, a visit from a lawmaker so closely linked in constitutional terms to the presidency increases the offense. China’s spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said that because of Pelosi’s status as the “No 3 official of the US government”, a visit to Taiwan would “lead to egregious political impact”.
The China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest military, on Monday celebrated the 95th anniversary of its founding.
The potential Taiwan leg of Pelosi’s tour is not yet in her public schedule. If she proceeds with the visit, it will be the first for a US House speaker since Newt Gingrich travelled there in 1997. Beijing protested against the trip but eventually swallowed its irritation.
Officially, Pelosi will only visit Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan on this trip. But Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and senior member of the House foreign affairs committee, and Democrat Anna Eshoo told US media last week that Pelosi had invited them to Taiwan. Both declined due to a scheduling conflict.
Pelosi’s trip comes at a time of extreme geopolitical uncertainty in the region. On Monday, she and a six-member congressional delegation held talks with Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. The Singaporean leader “highlighted the importance of stable US-China relations for regional peace and security”, according to an official statement from Lee’s office.
In the run-up to Monday’s PLA founding anniversary, the Chinese military conducted “live-fire exercises” near the Pingtan islands off Fujian province, according to the official Xinhua news agency on Saturday. The Maritime Safety Administration warned ships to avoid the area.
Since reports of Pelosi’s potential Taiwan trip emerged a fortnight ago, Beijing’s state media outlets have intensified their criticism of US policy on Taiwan. In the last few days, Chinese diplomats have also repeated China’s stance, reiterating Beijing’s “one China principle”, on social media.
George Yin, a distinguished fellow at the Center for China Studies at National Taiwan University in Taipei, said the US faced a strategic dilemma when it came to stabilising the Taiwan strait.
“On the one hand, the US needs to signal its support for Taiwan, particularly since China often portrays the US as a paper tiger who does not have the resolve to come to Taiwan’s aid,” Yin said.
“On the other hand, the US needs to reassure China that it still abides by the one China principle. Pelosi’s expected visit illustrates how difficult it is to strike a good strategic balance.”