U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left Malaysia on Tuesday and was expected to visit Taiwan, escalating tensions with Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as its own territory.
The plane carrying Pelosi and her delegation left from a Malaysian air force base, with local media in Taiwan reporting that she would arrive there on Tuesday night. The United Daily News, Liberty Times and China Times — Taiwan’s three largest national newspapers — cited unidentified sources as saying she would spend the night in Taiwan.
Pelosi, head of one of three branches of the U.S. government, would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment. Premier Su Tseng-chang didn’t explicitly confirm Pelosi’s visit, but said Tuesday that “any foreign guests and friendly lawmakers” are “very much welcome.”
China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary, has repeatedly warned of retaliation if Pelosi visits, saying its military will “never sit idly by.”
“The U.S. and Taiwan have colluded to make provocations first, and China has only been compelled to act out of self-defence,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday in Beijing.
Any countermeasures China takes will be “justified and necessary” in the face of Washington’s “unscrupulous behaviour” should Pelosi visit, Hua said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged China to “act responsibly” if Pelosi proceeds with the visit.
“We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward,” he told reporters at United Nations headquarters in New York.
U.S insists independence is not a goal
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby underscored that the decision on whether to visit Taiwan was ultimately Pelosi’s. He noted that members of Congress have routinely visited the island over the years — in April, Sen. Lindsey Graham led a delegation of six lawmakers from both parties to Taiwan, while the U.S. health secretary at the time visited in 2020.
U.S. officials have said the U.S. military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region. Four U.S. warships, including an aircraft carrier, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on what the U.S. Navy called routine deployments, a U.S. Navy official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after the Communists won a civil war on the mainland.
The U.S. maintains informal relations and defence ties with Taiwan even as it recognizes Beijing as the government of China. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed U.S. relations with the island, does not require the U.S. to step in militarily if China invades, but makes it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status by Beijing.
China has been steadily ratcheting up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. China cut off all contact with Taiwan’s government in 2016, after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse its claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation.
Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don’t support, despite some imprecise statements in recent years by both President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, whose administration opened a de facto embassy in Taiwan.
Russia expresses ‘absolute solidarity’ with China
The Philippines, which maintains relations with both the U.S. and China, urged them to be “responsible actors” in the region.
Russia, meanwhile, strongly warned the United States against provoking China with the trip.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned that such a visit would be “extremely provocative,” adding that it would “exacerbate the situation in the region and fuel tensions.”
Peskov’s comments reflected close ties between Moscow and Beijing, which have grown stronger since Russia sent its troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. China has refused to criticize Russia’s action, blaming the U.S. and NATO for provoking Moscow, and has blasted punishing sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Russia and China have held a series of joint war games in recent years, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Last year, Russian troops for the first time deployed to Chinese territory for joint manoeuvres.
Pelosi kicked off her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday and is also expected to meet with officials in South Korea later in the week.