Nancy Pelosi heads to Singapore, but keeps quiet about Taiwan

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday began a busy tour of Asia that administration officials say is now expected to include a stop in Taiwan, despite China’s increasingly strident warnings in recent days that a visit to the self-governing island could elicit a backlash. reaction. military.

Mrs. Pelosi was scheduled to arrive in Singapore on Monday after a weekend stop in Hawaii to consult with US commanders in charge of the Indo-Pacific. She said in statement that she planned to travel with a congressional delegation to high-level meetings in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, and did not mention Taiwan.

But it’s not unusual to exclude Taiwan from the announcement given security concerns, and President Biden’s aides have said she is expected to move ahead with a plan for the highest-level U.S. official to visit the island in 25 years. Mrs. Administration officials said Pelosi could still change his mind about going to Taiwan, but added that this was unlikely.

mr. Biden aides said he chose not to directly ask Ms. Pelosi to cancel his trip, in large part because of his respect for Congressional independence developed over his 36 years in the Senate. He is also clearly unwilling to back down in the face of Chinese threats, including Beijing’s warning that the United States is “playing with fire” that followed Mr. Trump. Biden almost two and a half hours of conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

At its core, some officials said, after the call, the administration concluded that the potential domestic and geostrategic risks associated with trying to stop the visit, including allowing China to dictate which U.S. officials can visit the self-governing democracy of 23 million – which China calls its own – were more than allowing Ms. Pelosi continue. But they acknowledged that there was little hard data on how harshly China might react.

Privately, US officials have urged the Chinese government to back out of the visit, noting that Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997 when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives and that congressional delegations visit the island regularly to express American support for its defense. But the strategic environment of Mr. Gingrich’s trip was very different, and in recent years Mr. Xi has made it clear that he considers reunification with Taiwan a priority.

Over the weekend, US officials closely followed the Chinese government’s preparations in an attempt to understand Beijing’s intentions. The most obvious sign they saw is in the Taiwan Strait, where every week there are provocations, tests and alarms. Chinese military announced on Saturday, with less notice than usual, it will conduct live ammunition exercises in southeastern Fujian waters, about 80 miles from Taiwan.

On Sunday, the representative of the Chinese Air Force said, without dates, that the country’s fighter jets would fly over Taiwan to demonstrate their ability to defend their territory. This raised the possibility that the exercise would be timed to coincide with an encounter with a US Air Force aircraft, which is Mrs. Black. Pelosi and her delegation accept. Their trip was part of a series of efforts to reassure the region that the United States remains committed to its “central position” in the Indo-Pacific, despite pouring tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. to strengthen her against the Russian invasion.

US officials doubt that the Chinese military will interfere with Ms. Pelosi’s ability to land safely in Taiwan, betting that Beijing does not want a direct confrontation with the US. But they say that it is quite possible that Chinese planes will “accompany” the lady. Pelosi’s plane as a demonstration of airway control.

This, officials fear, creates the possibility of an accident similar to the one that occurred two decades ago when a Chinese Air Force jet collided with and shot down a US spy plane, leading to an early crisis in the George W. Bush government. Bush administration.

Officials say they don’t have reliable information about what the Chinese government might be planning. But they expect the biggest reaction could be after Ms. Pelosi leaves, and that this could include military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait, cyberattacks, or communication outages that would demonstrate Beijing’s ability to strangle the island, which is also the world’s largest. and China as the world’s most advanced semiconductor supplier.

In recent weeks, US intelligence officials have warned that China may be preparing to move against the island sooner rather than later. Intelligence analysts have concluded that China may fear that the United States’ commitment to helping turn the island into a “porcupine” — armed with weapons like those provided to Ukraine to defend against the Russians — could drive Mr. C. Xi and his the military believes they need to move within the next 18 months or they will lose their military edge.

The movement may include an incident in the channel, or an attempt to compress and isolate the island without a full invasion. But the warning is based more on analysis, officials say, than on new intelligence discoveries.

William J. Burns, director of the CIA, said in July that China appears to be “alarmed” by Russia’s struggle in Ukraine and may conclude that it needs to build “overwhelming” capabilities before considering any action against Taiwan.

Mrs. Pelosi has a long history of protesting human rights abuses by the Chinese government during her congressional career. Thirty-one years ago, she visited Tiananmen Square and unfurled a banner commemorating the hundreds of demonstrators massacred there by Chinese troops in 1989, drawing deep ire from the Chinese leadership.

Three times since he took office, Mr. Biden has also rattled Beijing with what might appear to Chinese leaders as a hardening of America’s commitment to protecting Taiwan—and abandoning the carefully worded ambiguity about how much to aid Taiwan in the event of a military attack.

The latter came in late May, when Mr. Biden surprised the assembled Asian leaders by answering “yes” to a reporter’s question “whether he is ready to take part in military action to defend Taiwan.” mr. Biden never elaborated on what the phrase meant, and White House officials insisted that US policy had not changed.

Mrs. Pelosi has not confirmed if she will visit Taiwan. But she suggested a trip to the island this year, which was postponed due to her contracting the coronavirus, and when asked recently about her plans for the trip, she said it was “important for us to show support for Taiwan.”

On Sunday, Mr. Pelosi revealed some details about her route that she previously refused to reveal, citing security concerns. Her office said her trip will focus on “mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific.” This is stated in a message on the website of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. Pelosi will attend a cocktail reception hosted by the group on Monday afternoon.

mr. Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, has vowed to seek reunification with Taiwan, although he did not specify a timeframe. Some analysts fear he may feel pressured to take a tough stance – possibly including military action – against any perceived challenges to that pledge ahead of the important Chinese Communist Party convention this fall, when he is expected to seek a third term in as a leader. But other analysts downplay the risks of a military escalation, arguing that Mr. Xi would probably like to avoid unpredictability ahead of the meeting.

mr. Biden himself appears to have hinted at the risk of a clash with China if Ms. Pelosi is away. Responding recently to a reporter’s question about the proposed trip, he said “the military doesn’t think it’s a good idea right now.” The President was also strengthening U.S. relations with Asian allies as a potential counterbalance to the rise of China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters last week that China would take “firm and decisive action” if Ms. C. Pelosi visited Taiwan and that the United States would be “responsible for all serious consequences.” Some political analysts and state media observers have suggested that China will use its air force to prevent the visit, raising the risk of armed conflict.

The Biden administration insists that its stance on Taiwan has not changed. Biden passed on Mr. Xi during their phone call, according to the White House. Longstanding American policy recognizes but does not support China’s position that Taiwan is part of its territory and believes that the United States will defend the island, without specifying how.

But the president has little official authority over the lady. Pelosi and her travel plans. And growing anti-Chinese sentiment in both the Democratic and Republican parties is creating political embarrassment for Mr. Trump. Biden to openly obstruct her trip.

Domestic politics, in both China and the United States, leave little room for graceful de-escalation, said Chen Qi, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. It could cost Democrats dearly politically if Ms. Pelosi chooses not to visit Taiwan, Professor Chen said. interview with Xinhua reporter, Chinese state news agency. And China cannot afford to appear weak in the face of a perceived provocation.

“Now it’s up to whoever blinks first,” said Professor Chen.

Edward Wong made a report. John Liu as well as Claire Fu contributed to research.