USA house Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday began an Asia tour shrouded in secrecy after tensions escalated with China over Taiwan.
Unsure if Pelosi would visit the island, she first stopped in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged her to pursue “stable” ties with Beijing in a meeting.
Her itinerary also includes Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, but a possible visit to Taiwan has attracted attention ahead of the visit.
Reports of a plan to visit the island infuriated Beijing and caused concern in the White House as President Joe Biden tried to lower the temperature.
Beijing regards self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, which will one day be taken by force if necessary, and said it would regard Pelosi’s visit as a major provocation.
Pelosi’s office confirmed her trip to Asia in a statement Sunday while her plane was in the air, after days of US media speculation and the speaker’s refusal to confirm her itinerary.
“The trip will be dedicated to mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region,” the message said, referring to the Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwan was not mentioned in the statement. But visits by US officials there are usually kept secret until delegations arrive.
And as the rumors escalated, both CNN and Taiwanese TVBS said on Monday, citing unnamed sources, that Pelosi does indeed plan to include the island on his Asian tour.
– “Bury all enemies” –
The Global Times, China’s state-run tabloid, suggested that Pelosi could use “emergency pretexts such as aircraft malfunction or refueling” to land at a Taiwanese airport.
“If she dares to stop in Taiwan, this will be the moment to set fire to the powder keg of the Taiwan Strait situation,” Hu Xijin, a former Global Times editor-turned-commentator, tweeted.
And the command of the Eastern Theater of Operations of the Chinese army shared footage on the Weibo social network, which shows a combat-ready army with fighter jets and helicopters taking off, landing troops landing on the coast, and a stream of missiles falling on various targets.
“We will bury all enemies who have invaded our territory,” read a brief text accompanying the footage.
“We are ready for battle,” he added. “Forward to joint struggle and victorious war.”
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but the threat has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The United States maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about whether it will intervene military intervention in the event of a Chinese invasion.
While he diplomatically recognizes Beijing and not Taipei, he also supports Taiwan’s democratic government and opposes any forced change of the island’s status.
US officials often covertly visit Taiwan to show support, but Pelosi’s trip would be more publicized than any in recent history.
The Taiwanese government has remained silent on the prospects for Pelosi’s visit, and there has been little coverage in the local press.
“I really hate what the Chinese are doing,” Xu Ching-feng, a fruit vendor in Taipei, told AFP.
“But there is nothing we ordinary people can do about it other than ignore them. I’ll just ignore them.”
– “Wrong Target” –
As speaker of the House of Representatives, Pelosi is second in line to the presidency of the United States and is one of the country’s most powerful politicians.
The last Speaker of the House of Representatives was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Biden and Xi had a tense phone call last week, marred by differences over Taiwan.
Xi indirectly warned the United States not to “play with fire” on the island.
Speculation about Pelosi’s plans for Taiwan has coincided with a surge in military activity in the region.
US officials tried to downplay Pelosi’s visit, urging Chinese leaders to remain calm.
Haris Templeman, a Taiwan expert at the Hoover Institution, said Beijing “misunderstood US policy and messed up their signals” with its harsh response.
“They picked the wrong target. Biden has no control over the speaker or any other member of Congress,” he wrote on Sunday.
“They drew a line at the Speaker of the House on a visit rich in symbolism but limited in practical value. And now either Pelosi won’t go, or Xi won’t respond with something dramatic, it will be expensive from a political point of view.”
There were mixed views in Taiwan about the prospect of Pelosi’s visit, but officials from both the ruling party and the mainstream opposition said the island must not succumb to Chinese pressure.
“If Pelosi canceled or postponed the trip, it would be a victory for the Chinese government and Xi, as it would show that the pressure they are exerting has achieved the desired results,” Hung Chin-fu of the Taiwanese national agency Cheng Kung. university, according to AFP.