August 02, 2022 08:16
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived Monday in Singapore for a two-day official visit, amid speculation that her Asia trip could include a stop in Taiwan -- a possibility that prompted the White House to reassure Beijing that U.S. policy has not changed, and to urge Chinese leaders not to escalate an already strained relationship between the two great powers.
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Monday that the White House could not confirm whether Pelosi intends to defy China by visiting Taiwan, but stressed that as the leader of the House of Representatives, she "makes her own decisions" on official travel.
"There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis conflict or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait," he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Kirby in noting that Beijing understands Congress' role in the U.S. system of government. "Congress is an independent, co-equal branch of government," Blinken said. "The decision is entirely the speaker's. What I can say is this: this is very much precedent, in the sense that previous speakers visited Taiwan. Many members of Congress go to Taiwan, including this year. If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing. We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward."
But China's foreign ministry on Monday reiterated that they would see a visit as an unacceptable violation of what it sees as its sovereignty over the self-ruled island. "We are closely following the itinerary of Speaker Pelosi," said spokesman Zhao Lijian. "A visit to Taiwan by her would constitute a gross interference in China's internal affairs, seriously undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, wantonly trample on the one-China principle, greatly threaten peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, severely undermine China-U.S. relations and lead to a very serious situation and grave consequences."
In a statement Sunday, Pelosi said she is leading a group of five other Democratic Party lawmakers to Asia "to reaffirm America's strong and unshakeable commitment to our allies and friends in the region." She did not mention whether she will stop in Taiwan on the trip that has Malaysia, Korea and Japan among the U.S. delegation's scheduled visits.
Pelosi herself has indirectly spoken about such a possibility, even though her office has not confirmed it, citing security protocols. It would be the highest-level U.S. visit to Taiwan since 1997, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich led a congressional delegation there.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war, with the defeated nationalist forces fleeing to Taiwan and setting up a government that later grew into a vibrant democracy. Since then, China's Communist Party has vowed to take Taiwan, using force if necessary, even though the island has never been led by the Communist Party.
White House officials said Monday that they expect Beijing to keep communicating with Washington. "We expect to see Beijing continue to use inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation in the coming days," Kirby said, adding, "We're also committed to keeping open lines of communication in Beijing. As I said, this is what the world expects of not just the United States, but of China. We encourage Beijing to keep that commitment as well."
China announced Saturday it was holding "live-fire" military exercises off its coast facing Taiwan. The drills occurred near the Pingtan islands off Fujian province, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. The report did not specify what type of weapons were used in the exercises.
On Sunday, a spokesman for China's air force said Beijing has the "firm will" and "sufficient capability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity." The spokesman, who was quoted in state media, also said China had various fighter jets that can circle "the precious island of our motherland."
China has flown an increasing number of warplanes through Taiwan's self-declared air defense identification zone in recent years, greatly raising tensions in the Taiwan Strait. In recent weeks, Chinese state media editorials have warned Chinese fighter jets could follow and intercept Pelosi's plane.
Hu Xijin, a fiercely nationalistic commentator for the Communist Party's Global Times, even suggested in a tweet that the Chinese military has the right to "forcibly dispel" any U.S. aircraft traveling or escorting Pelosi to Taiwan. "If ineffective, then shoot them down," Hu said in the tweet, which was later removed because it violated Twitter guidelines.
Despite China's warnings, a large, bipartisan chorus of lawmakers had urged Pelosi to not back down, saying China should not be allowed to dictate where U.S. officials visit. "It would make it look like America can be shoved around," former House Speaker Gingrich told VOA’s Mandarin Service earlier this week. Gingrich said he supports Pelosi's trip, which will likely only amount to "an irritation" to U.S.-China ties. "I think this is at one level a lot of noise about nothing," Gingrich said. "I think if she holds her ground, and if the Biden administration doesn't act timidly and almost cowardly, I think everything will be fine."
The United States formally cut official relations with Taiwan in 1979 when it switched diplomatic recognition to China. However, the United States has continued to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons as mandated by the U.S. Congress. U.S. presidents have long used a policy of "strategic ambiguity" toward Taiwan -- essentially leaving their options open in the case of a Chinese invasion of the island.
However, President Joe Biden's recent comments have raised doubts about that approach. Since taking office, Biden on three occasions has said the U.S. is committed to defending Taiwan. Biden has been cautious, though, on the prospect of a Pelosi visit. Earlier this month, Biden said the U.S. military does not think a visit would be a good idea.
Pelosi's possible visit comes at a sensitive moment for Xi, who is expected to use a Communist Party Congress later this year to secure a controversial third term as China's top leader. Observers have said Xi, China's most powerful leader in decades, may want to send a tough message on Taiwan ahead of the meeting. But he may also want to preserve stability around a sensitive political moment.
But longtime China-watcher Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told VOA last week that Beijing has a particular problem with Pelosi. "China would see a visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi as even more provocative than a series of visits by other senators, congressmen, many members of the Cabinet, all of which China has objected to strongly," he told VOA, via Zoom. "Speaker of the House is [second] in line to the presidency. She also has a long history as a human rights provocateur against China, from Beijing's point of view. This dates back to, I think, her second or third year as a congresswoman when she unveiled a banner in Tiananmen Square commemorating the students who were killed there. The Chinese tend to see her as a particular sort of thorn in their side."
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com