House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kicked off an Asia tour on Monday that has been shrouded in secrecy following escalating tensions with China over Taiwan.
Unsure whether Pelosi will travel to the island, she first stopped in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged her in a meeting to seek “stable” ties with Beijing.
His itinerary also includes Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, but a possible visit to Taiwan dominated the spotlight as he approached.
Reports of a planned visit to the island have enraged Beijing and causedPresident Biden trying to lower the temperature between Washington and Beijing.
Beijing views self-governing Taiwan as its territory – to be seized one day, by force if necessary – and says it would view a visit by Pelosi as a major provocation.
Reuters news agency quotes Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian as saying on Monday that it would be “blatant interference in China’s internal affairs” if Pelosi were to stop in Taiwan. He warned that this would lead to “very serious developments and consequences”.
“We would like to tell the United States once again that China is here, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never stand idly by, and China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zhao told a regular reporter. daily briefing.
Pelosi’s officeonce his plane was in the air, after days of speculation in the American media and the speaker’s refusal to confirm his itinerary.
“The trip will focus on mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region,” his office said, referring to Asia-Pacific.
The statement did not mention Taiwan. But the visits of American officials on the spot are generally kept secret until the arrival of the delegations.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said Monday morning that Pelosi “has not confirmed his travel plans,” adding that the national security team has engaged with Pelosi and his team. and had given him “thorough briefings”.
Pelosi, the spokesperson said, “will make her own decision because Congress is an independent branch of government.”
Taiwan has had a visit from a Speaker of the House before – Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan in 1997. “There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit in line with long-standing US policy into a some sort of crisis or conflict,” the spokesperson said.
The Global Times, China’s state-run tabloid, suggested that Pelosi could use “emergency excuses like plane failure or refueling” to land at a Taiwanese airport.
“If she dares to stop in Taiwan, it will be the time to set fire to the powder keg of the situation in the Taiwan Strait,” tweeted Hu Xijin, former editor of the Global Times and now a commentator.
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of invasion, but the threat has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The United States maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about whether it would intervene militarily in the event of an invasion by China.
While Washington diplomatically recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, it also supports Taiwan’s democratic government and opposes any forced change in the island’s status.
US officials often make low-key visits to Taiwan to show support, but a trip to Pelosi would be more publicized than any in recent history.
The Taiwanese government has been silent on the prospect of a visit by Pelosi, and local media coverage has been minimal.
“I really hate what the Chinese are doing,” Hsu Ching-feng, a fruit vendor in Taipei, told Agence France-Presse. “But there’s nothing we ordinary people can do about it but ignore them. I’m just going to ignore them.”
As Speaker of the House, Pelosi is third in line for the US presidency and one of the most powerful politicians in the country.
Mr. Biden and Xi had aclouded by disagreements over Taiwan.
Xi issued an oblique warning to the United States not to “play with fire” on the island.
Speculation about Pelosi’s plans in Taiwan has coincided with increased military activity in the region.
US officials have sought to downplay a visit by Pelosi, appealing to Chinese leaders for calm.
Kharis Templeman, a Taiwan expert at the Hoover Institution, said Beijing “misinterpreted US policy and messed up their signage” with its intense reaction.
“They picked the wrong target. Biden does not control the President or any other member of Congress,” he tweeted on Sunday.
“They drew the line to the Speaker of the House, on a visit rich in symbolism but of limited practical value. And now it will be politically costly for Pelosi not to go, or for Xi not to respond. by something dramatic.”
In Taiwan, opinions are divided on the prospect of Pelosi’s visit, but senior ruling party and main opposition figures have said the island should not bow to Chinese pressure.
“If Pelosi were to cancel or postpone the trip, it would be a victory for the Chinese government and for Xi because it would show that the pressure he exerted had some desired effects,” said Hung Chin-fu, of the National Cheng Kung. from Taiwan. University, told AFP.
Sara Cook contributed to this report.
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