WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan in the coming days, according to multiple media reports, defying threats of Chinese retaliation to make the first such high-level visit in 25 years.
CNN and the Wall Street Journal reported that Pelosi will go ahead with the controversial trip, although the precise timing remains unclear. Pelosi’s office declined to comment on those reports Monday. Some in Washington had expressed concerns that a visit by the sitting U.S. House speaker would provoke China into attacking the self-governed island.
China views Taiwan as part of its territory, while Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign country. The U.S. has long embraced a murky middle ground that seeks to support Taiwan without infuriating Beijing.
President Joe Biden has muddied the issue by saying the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense militarily if China invades and tries to take over the self-ruled island by force.
Pelosi’s anticipated trip comes in spite of harsh warnings from China of unspecified “consequences” for visiting Taiwan and as tensions escalate between the U.S. and China.
Chinese officials issued fresh warnings about the visit on Monday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying warned in a tweet Monday that “the U.S. government must honor its commitments in both word and in deed. Otherwise the U.S. government must take responsibility and bear consequences for any act” that China sees as a violation of its agreements with the U.S.
Earlier Monday, Chinese official Zhao Lijian said the Chinese military will “not sit idly by” if Pelosi visits Taiwan, according to Reuters.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a stark warning directly to Biden over the issue during a lengthy July 28 phone call between the two leaders.
“Those who play with fire will perish by it,” the Chinese leader said, according to Beijing’s official account of the conversation.
“It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this. The U.S. should honor the one-China principle,” the Chinese government statement said.
Biden and Xi call:focused on tension with Taiwan, economic anxiety
The call between the two leaders came after warnings from China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian that a visit from Pelosi would challenge “China’s red line” and “be met with resolute countermeasures.”
U.S. officials have called such comments escalatory.
“Frankly, that kind of rhetoric is unnecessary and unhelpful,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications at the White House, said last week. “Rhetoric of that kind of only escalates tensions in a completely unnecessary manner.”
On Monday, Kirby stressed that a trip by Pelosi would not mark any change in U.S. policy, pointing to past visits by members of Congress including this year.
“Nothing about this potential visit … would change the status quo and the world should reject any (Chinese) effort to use it to do so. We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated,” he said.
“We have repeatedly said that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side, we have said that we do not support Taiwan independence, and we have said that we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means,” Kirby added.
Pelosi would not confirm her trip; lawmakers generally do not publicize overseas trips because of security concerns. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was the last House leader to visit in 1997.
After the call between Biden and Xi, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden wouldn’t tell Pelosi if she should travel to Taiwan or not.
Asked about the speaker’s plans, Biden said previously that “the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now” for Pelosi to visit Taiwan.
Congressional leaders backed Pelosi’s travel plans, including the top two Republicans, who said not going to Taiwan in the wake of China’s threats would be a win for China.
“If she doesn’t go now, she’s handed China sort of a victory of sorts,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said before the trip. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., echoed McConnell, and said that he would lead a bipartisan trip to Taiwan himself if he becomes speaker.
Contributing: Francesca Chambers, Deirdre Shesgreen