US says Nancy Pelosi has ‘right to visit Taiwan’, warns China against turning potential trip into ‘crisis’

The White House on Monday warned China against overreacting to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, saying she would have every right to visit the self-ruled island despite Beijing seeing it as a highly provocative challenge.
China should not turn any visit by Ms. Pelosi into a “crisis,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, though he warned that Beijing could “position itself” to demonstrate military power around the island.

Ms. Pelosi, who is currently on an official tour of Asia, will stop in Taiwan and meet with President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, if so, this would be the highest-level US visit to Taipei in decades, according to media reports.

Beijing, which views Taiwan as its own territory, has reacted furiously to the idea, warning President Joe Biden that his administration is playing “with fire” and announcing a series of live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.
While the White House and State Department are believed to oppose Ms. Pelosi’s trip, Mr. Kirby made it clear that the speaker, who is second in line to the US presidency, has the right to go where she pleases.
“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan,” he told reporters, adding, “Beijing has no reason to turn a possible visit, in line with longstanding US policy, into some kind of crisis.”

Mr. Kirby cited intelligence that China is preparing possible military provocations that could include missile launches in the Taiwan Strait or “large-scale” incursions into Taiwanese airspace.

Switching policy, Mr. Kirby added that the US does not support Taiwan independence, even though Mr. Biden had earlier vowed that if China invaded the island, the US would intervene militarily.
Ms. Pelosi began her trip on Monday with a stopover in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged her in a meeting to strive for a “stable” relationship with Beijing.

Her itinerary also includes Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, but the prospect of a visit to Taiwan dominates the spotlight.

Photos of the week in Asia

A masked woman rides her bicycle past a large TV screen at a mall showing Chinese state television coverage of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong in Beijing, Friday, July 1, 2022. Source: A MONKEY / Mark Schifelbein/AP

‘Nothing changed’

Speculation about Ms. Pelosi’s plans coincided with a surge in military activity in the region.
Mr. Kirby said the United States “won’t be intimidated” by continued free movement in the Pacific.
However, he sought to reduce tensions by emphasizing on several occasions that US policy towards Taiwan is unchanged. This means supporting its self-governing government, recognizing China’s sovereignty, and opposing either Taiwan’s claim of full independence or China’s forcible takeover.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “Of course, there is no reason for it to come to a fight.”

Mr. Kirby confirmed that Ms. Pelosi was on a military plane and said Washington did not fear a direct attack, but warned that it was “raising the stakes of miscalculation.”
Ms. Pelosi’s office said her trip “will focus on mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region,” 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.

The Global Times, China’s state-run tabloid, suggested that Ms. Pelosi may have used “emergency pretexts such as plane 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.”

Photos of the week in Asia

A Cheng Kung-class frigate fires an anti-aircraft missile as part of a naval demonstration at Taiwan’s annual Han Kuang exercise off the east coast of an island near Yilan City, Taiwan, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. Source: A MONKEY / Huizhong Wu/AP

The Taiwanese government is silent

Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but the threat has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
US officials often covertly visit Taiwan to show support, but Ms. Pelosi’s trip would be louder 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’s nothing we ordinary people can do about it other than ignore them.”