Speaker Nancy Pelosi began a frightening tour of Asia on Sunday, an administration officials say they now expect will include a halt in Taiwan, despite sharp warnings from China in recent days that the self-governing island The visit would provoke a reaction, perhaps a military one.
Ms Pelosi was scheduled to arrive in Singapore on Monday after a weekend stop in Hawaii to consult with US commanders responsible for the Indo-Pacific. She said in a statement that she was planning to travel with a congressional delegation for high-level meetings in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, and did not mention Taiwan.
But it would not be unusual to exclude Taiwan from a declaration given security concerns, and aides to President Biden said they expected to proceed with plans for the highest-level visit by a US official to the island in 25 years. Was. Ms Pelosi may still change her mind about traveling to Taiwan, administration officials said, but she said that seemed unlikely.
Mr Biden’s aides said they had decided against directly asking Pelosi to cancel her visit, largely because of her respect for Congressional independence, forged during her 36 years in the Senate. He is also clearly reluctant to confront Chinese threats, including warnings from Beijing that the United States was “playing with fire”, following Mr Biden’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour talks with President Xi Jinping . China on Thursday.
At its core, some officials said, the administration concluded after the call that there were potential domestic and geo-strategic risks of trying to curtail travel — including directing China that U.S. officials be self-governing of 23 million people. Democracy may visit, which China claims were more than allowing its own – Ms Pelosi to proceed. But he acknowledged that there was little intelligence on how sharply China might respond.
Privately, US officials have urged the Chinese government to call off the visit, noting that Newt Gingrich visited in 1997, when he was House Speaker, and that congressional delegations regularly came to his defense. Americans visit the island to express support. But the strategic environment of Mr. Gingrich’s visit was completely different, and in recent years Mr. Xi has made it clear that he considers reunification with Taiwan a priority.
US officials were carefully monitoring the Chinese government’s preparedness over the weekend, trying to understand Beijing’s intentions. The most obvious signs they saw involved the Strait of Taiwan, where provocations, tests and signals surfaced weekly. The Chinese military announced on Saturday with less notice than usual that it would conduct exercises with ammunition in the waters of southeastern Fujian province, about 80 miles from Taiwan.
On Sunday, a spokesman for the Chinese Air Force said, without specifying dates, that the country’s fighter jets would fly around Taiwan to demonstrate their ability to defend its territory. This raised the possibility that the timing of the exercise would be to meet the US Air Force aircraft that Ms Pelosi and her delegation are carrying. His visit was part of a series of efforts to reassure the region that the United States was still committed to its “pivot” for the Indo-Pacific, despite pouring tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, leaving it on shore. to do. Russian invasion.
US officials suspect Chinese military will interfere with Ms Pelosi’s ability to land safely in Taiwan, betting Beijing does not want a direct confrontation with the United States. But they say it is possible that Chinese aircraft will “escort” Pelosi’s plane as a demonstration of control over the air routes.
That sets up the possibility officials fear a crash—like the kind that happened two decades ago when a Chinese Air Force plane collided with a US spy plane, and brought down, causing George W. Bush Administration.
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Officials say they have no credible intelligence about what the Chinese government is planning. But they expect the biggest backlash could come after Ms Pelosi’s departure, and could include military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait, cyberattacks or communications cutoffs that would demonstrate Beijing’s ability to lock down the island, Which is also the world’s – and China – the world’s largest supplier of the most advanced semiconductors.
In recent weeks, US intelligence officials have warned that China is preparing to act quickly against the island. Intelligence analysts have concluded that China may fear that the United States’ commitment to help turn the island into an “porcupine” – armed with the weapons provided to Ukraine to fight the Russians – may have been taken by Mr. Xi and his The military might think they need to move in the next 18 months, lest they lose the military advantage.
A move could involve an incident in the strait or an attempt to squeeze and isolate the island without a complete invasion. But the warning is based more on analysis than new intelligence discoveries, officials say.
CIA Director William J. Burns said in July that China appeared “disturbed” by Russia’s conflicts in Ukraine and could conclude that it needed to develop “enormous” capabilities before considering any moves against Taiwan.
Ms Pelosi has a long history of opposing human rights abuses by the Chinese government during her Congressional tenure. Thirty-one years ago he visited Tiananmen Square and raised a banner commemorating the hundreds of protesters killed by Chinese troops in 1989, deeply angering the Chinese leadership.
Three times since entering office, Mr. Biden has also scoffed at Beijing over what Chinese leaders call the hardening of the US commitment to defend Taiwan – and the meticulousness of how much Taiwan has to assist in the matter. The ambiguity of words may sound like a rejection. of a military attack.
The most recent came in late May, when Mr Biden surprised a gathering of Asian leaders by answering “yes” when a reporter asked if he would “join militarily to defend Taiwan”. are interested.” Mr Biden never specified what the phrase meant in his mind, and White House officials insisted that US policy had not changed.
Ms Pelosi has not confirmed whether she will visit Taiwan. But she had proposed a trip to the island this year, which was postponed because she contracted the coronavirus, and when recently asked about her travel plans, she said “showing support for Taiwan is our was important.”
On Sunday, Ms Pelosi revealed some more details about her itinerary, which she had previously declined to disclose, citing security concerns. His office said his visit would focus on “mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific”. A posting on the website of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore said Ms Pelosi would attend a cocktail reception hosted by the group on Monday afternoon.
Mr. Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, has vowed to reunify with Taiwan, although he did not specify a time frame. Some analysts fear he may feel pressured to show a tougher stance – possibly including military action – against any perceived challenges to that pledge at a crucial Chinese Communist Party congress this fall, when he is asked as leader. is expected to claim a third term. But other analysts downplay the risks of a military escalation, arguing that Mr. Xi may want to avoid unpredictability ahead of the meeting.
Mr Biden himself has pointed to the risk of a confrontation with China if Ms Pelosi does visit. When asked about the proposed visit by journalists recently, he said that “the military thinks it is not a good idea right now.” The president is also increasing US ties with Asian allies as a possible counterpoint to the rise of China.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, told reporters last week that China would take “firm and resolute measures” if Ms Pelosi visits Taiwan and the United States will be “responsible for all dire consequences.” Some political analysts and state media commentators have suggested that China will activate its air force to halt the visit – raising fears of an armed conflict.
According to the White House, the Biden administration insists that its stance on Taiwan has not changed, a message that Mr Biden delivered to Mr Xi during his phone call. Long-standing US policy, without endorsing China’s position, accepts Taiwan as part of its territory, and believes that the United States will defend the island without explaining how.
But the president has little official authority over Ms Pelosi and her travel plans. And rising anti-China sentiment in both the Democratic and Republican parties has made it politically awkward for Mr Biden to openly discourage his visit.
Domestic politics, both in China and the United States, have left little room for graceful de-escalation, said Chen Qi, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. In an interview with a reporter for China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, Professor Chen said if Ms Pelosi decides not to go to Taiwan, it could be politically damaged. And China cannot afford to appear weak in the face of perceived provocation.
“Now it depends who blinks first,” Professor Chen said.
edward wong Contributed to reporting. john liu And Claire Fu Contributed to research.