Following an uptick in tensions with China over Taiwan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began a secretive tour to Asia on Monday.
Pelosi made her first stop in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged her at a meeting to work toward “stable” relations with Beijing. There has been no news on whether Pelosi will travel to the island.
Although Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan are also on her schedule, a potential visit to Taiwan has captured the public’s attention in the lead-up.
President Joe Biden is attempting to cool things off between Washington and Beijing after reports surfaced about a trip to the island that has incensed Beijing.
Beijing claims that Taiwan is its territory and that it will one day take it by force if necessary. It claims that Pelosi’s visit would be seen as a serious provocation.
Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, is quoted by the Reuters news agency as stating on Monday that stopping in Taiwan would be “a flagrant intervention in China’s internal affairs.” He foresaw “extremely terrible events and ramifications,” he said.
Zhao said at a routine daily briefing, “We would want to remind the United States that China is watching, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never stand idly by, and China will take bold replies and powerful countermeasures to preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
After days of American media speculation and the speaker refusing to confirm her schedule, Pelosi’s office said in a statement Sunday that she was traveling to Asia.
Her office stated that the trip’s main objectives will be to promote reciprocal security, economic cooperation, and democratic governance in the Asia-Pacific.
Taiwan was not mentioned in the statement. However, trips there by US officials are typically kept under wraps until delegations arrive.
Pelosi would use “emergency justifications like an aircraft fault or refueling,” according to The Global Times, a state-run tabloid in China, to land at a Taiwanese airport.
Former Global Times editor and current analyst Hu Xijin tweeted, “If she dares to halt in Taiwan, it will be the moment to ignite the powder keg of the situation in the Taiwan Straits.”
The 23 million residents of Taiwan have long faced the prospect of invasion, but it has grown more serious under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
If China invaded, the United States would retain a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether it would use force to stop it.
Washington supports Taiwan’s democratic government and opposes any forcible change to the island’s status, even though it diplomatically prefers Beijing to Taipei.
A trip by Pelosi would be more public than any in recent memory, despite the fact that American leaders frequently make covert trips to Taiwan to express support.
There hasn’t been any local press coverage of the possibility of a Pelosi visit, and Taiwan’s administration has kept silent.
A fruit vendor in Taipei named Hsu Ching-feng told Agence France-Presse, “I absolutely despise what the Chinese are doing.” “But we regular people have no choice but to disregard them. I’ll just disregard them.”
Pelosi is one of the most influential politicians in the United States and the speaker of the House. She is the third in line to the presidency.
The last House speaker to visit was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Mr. Biden and Xi had aclouded by disagreements over Taiwan.
Xi issued an oblique warning to the United States not to “play with fire” over the island.
Speculation about Pelosi’s Taiwan plans has coincided with an uptick in military activity across the region.
U.S. officials have sought to downplay the significance of a Pelosi visit, urging calm from Chinese leaders.
Kharis Templeman, a Taiwan expert at the Hoover Institution, said Beijing “misread U.S. politics and screwed their signaling up” with its intense reaction.
“They picked the wrong target. Biden doesn’t control the Speaker or any other member of Congress,” he tweeted Sunday.
“They’ve drawn the line at the Speaker of the House, on a visit rich in symbolism but of limited practical value. And now it will be politically costly for either Pelosi not to go, or Xi not to respond with something dramatic.”
In Taiwan, there have been mixed views about the prospect of Pelosi visiting, but figures from both the ruling party and the main opposition have said the island should not cave to Chinese pressure.
“If Pelosi were to cancel or postpone the trip, it would be a victory for the Chinese government and for Xi as it would show that the pressure it has exerted has achieved some desired effects,” Hung Chin-fu, from Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, told AFP.