Taiwan is “preparing for war” and has called officers back from leave as it braces for a Chinese invasion, according to local media.
The Taiwanese National Defense Ministry is said to have briefed its air defences that it should “prepare for war” in the coming days.
Beijing has been left infuriated by suggestions that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan during her Asian tour, which has now begun.
A stop in Taiwan is not included on Ms Pelosi’s itinerary and Biden administration officials have warned against it because of concerns about China’s response to such a high-profile visit after it declared the trip would “threaten peace and stability”.
On Monday, China doubled down on its position, warning that its military “won’t sit idly by” if Pelosi steps foot in Taiwan.
“We once again sternly warn the US side that China stands at the ready and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told reporters in Beijing on Monday about Ms Pelosi’s possible visit.
“China will take resolute and vigorous countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
But according to a senior Taiwanese government official and a US official, she is expected to stay in Taiwan overnight, local media and CNN reported. It is unclear when exactly Ms Pelosi will land in Taipei.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Monday said a potential visit by Pelosi to Taiwan did does not warrant the recent threats by the Chinese government.
“We shouldn’t be as a country — we shouldn’t be intimidated by that rhetoric or those potential actions,” Kirby told CNN’s New Day.
As part of her Asia tour, Ms Pelosi stopped first in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged her at a meeting to strive for “stable” ties with Beijing.
Her itinerary also includes Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, but a possible Taiwan visit has dominated attention in the run-up.
Reports about a plan to visit the island have enraged Beijing and caused unease in the White House with US President Joe Biden trying to lower the temperature.
Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan its territory – to be seized one day, by force if necessary – and said it would regard a MsPelosi visit as a major provocation.
Ms Pelosi’s office confirmed her Asia trip in a statement once her plane was in the air on Sunday, following days of media speculation and the speaker refusing to confirm her itinerary.
“The trip will focus on mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region,” it said, referring to the Asia-Pacific.
The statement did not mention Taiwan. But visits by US officials there are usually kept secret until delegations land.
And as speculation mounted, both CNN and Taiwan’s TVBS cited unnamed sources Monday to report that Ms Pelosi does indeed plan to include the island on her Asia tour.
The Global Times, China’s state-run tabloid, suggested that Ms Pelosi might use “emergency excuses like an aircraft fault or refuelling” to land at a Taiwanese airport.
“If she dares to stop in Taiwan, it will be the moment to ignite the powder keg of the situation in the Taiwan Straits,” Hu Xijin, a former Global Times editor and now commentator, tweeted.
On Monday, Beijing’s foreign ministry warned a visit would “seriously threaten the peace and stability” of the Taiwan Strait if it goes ahead.
“If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan, China will take resolute and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
“As to what measures, if she dares to go, then let’s wait and see.”
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion but the threat has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The US maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether it would militarily intervene were China to invade.
While it diplomatically recognises Beijing over Taipei, it also backs Taiwan’s democratic government and opposes any forced change to the island’s status.
American officials often make discreet visits to Taiwan to show support but a Pelosi trip would be higher-profile than any in recent history.
Taiwan’s government has remained silent on the prospect of a Pelosi visit and there has been minimal local press coverage.
“I really hate what the Chinese are doing,” Hsu Ching-feng, a fruit vendor in Taipei, told AFP.
“But there’s nothing us common folks can do about it but ignore them. I will just ignore them.”
As House speaker, Ms Pelosi is third in line to the US presidency and one of the country’s most powerful politicians.
The last House speaker to visit was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Biden and Xi had a tense phone call last week clouded by disagreements over Taiwan.
Xi issued an oblique warning to the US not to “play with fire” over the island.
Speculation about Pelosi’s Taiwan plans has coincided with an uptick in military activity across the region.
US officials have sought to downplay the significance of a Ms Pelosi visit, urging calm from Chinese leaders.
Kharis Templeman, a Taiwan expert at the Hoover Institution, said Beijing “misread US politics and screwed their signalling up” with its intense reaction.
“They picked the wrong target. Biden doesn’t control the Speaker or any other member of Congress,” he tweeted Sunday.
“They’ve drawn the line at the Speaker of the House, on a visit rich in symbolism but of limited practical value. And now it will be politically costly for either Pelosi not to go, or Xi not to respond with something dramatic.” In Taiwan, there have been mixed views about the prospect of Pelosi visiting, but figures from both the ruling party and the main opposition have said the island should not cave to Chinese pressure.
“If Pelosi were to cancel or postpone the trip, it would be a victory for the Chinese government and for Xi as it would show that the pressure it has exerted has achieved some desired effects,” Hung Chin-fu, from Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, told AFP.
– With AFP