Kirby has not confirmed that Pelosi plans to stop in Taiwan, but his many comments to reporters have suggested the White House is positioning itself for such a visit. Biden administration officials have privately said they are deeply concerned about the timing of his potential trip, but on Monday Kirby focused on criticizing China for its overreaction.
Pelosi kicked off her Asia trip on Sunday without revealing whether Taiwan is on the itinerary. Meanwhile, Beijing warned it would retaliate if she visited, and an official Chinese statement warned the Biden administration against “playing with fire” in Taiwan.
The statement follows a more than two-hour call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday. During that call, Biden “made it clear that Congress is an independent branch of government and that Speaker Pelosi makes her own decisions,” Kirby said.
Despite its fears that Pelosi’s trip could trigger a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, the White House sought to avoid any impression that the president was pressuring Pelosi. And Kirby stressed that if she visited the island, it did not reflect any change in the American approach to China or Taiwan.
“Nothing has changed – nothing has changed – in our Taiwanese politics,” Kirby said. As for Beijing, he added, “what we hope they take from everything we’ve done and everything we’ve said, including the president’s phone call, is that we are consistent”.
Kirby outlined potential responses from China in response to a visit from Pelosi, noting that China conducted a live-fire exercise over the weekend. Kirby added that China could fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan or conduct “high-profile” military exercises. Or, he said, he could carry out operations that “break historical norms”, such as sending more military aircraft halfway between Taiwan and mainland China.
Responses “could also include actions in the diplomatic and economic space such as other spurious legal claims like Beijing’s public assertions last month that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway,” he said. Kirby.
China claims to Taiwan are an integral part of the ruling Communist Party’s ideology. Beijing views official visits by high-ranking foreigners as support for independence camps and lends credence to the idea of Taiwan as a sovereign nation. Pelosi would be the first House Speaker to visit the self-governing Democratic island since Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1997.
The visit would also test Xi’s resolve at a time when he cannot afford to look weak as he chairs a downturn in the economy and the deterioration of relations between China and the West. And that comes ahead of a crucial party congress in the fall, when Xi is expected to break with precedent and take on a third term.
All senior officials on Biden’s national security team believed there were concerns about the timing of the trip, said a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, for example, expressed concern to several administration officials and asked for suggestions on how to dissuade the speaker from traveling to Taiwan, even sending some officials to speak directly. with Pelosi, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
The White House official said Sullivan was no more concerned than the others, and like other officials, it was up to Pelosi to decide if she wanted to go. Sullivan “strongly defended [Pelosi’s] right to leave” during a call with his counterpart in China, the official said.
Zack Cooper, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Washington doesn’t want a major confrontation, “but if the Chinese act intentionally or if there’s some kind of accident that leads to a real confrontation – if ships or planes are hitting each other, or if you get a radar lock on a plane or a missile that’s flying very close to Taiwan – I think you’d see that the United States feels it needs to react strong enough to that.
And Beijing’s responses are unlikely to end when Pelosi leaves Taiwan, he said, but will likely continue in the run-up to the party convention. “I think this won’t be an isolated incident,” Cooper said. “I think we’ll see more action over the next few months.”
Matt Turpin, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution who served as White House China director in the Donald Trump administration, said Chinese leaders, not Pelosi, would be responsible for any escalation.
“Pelosi’s visit does not influence Beijing’s behavior,” he said. “That’s what they choose to do. They will use any excuse they need to accomplish their plan – the eventual annexation of Taiwan.
In his call with Biden last week, Xi called on Washington to uphold its one-China policy, a longstanding agreement in which the United States recognizes – without acknowledging – Beijing’s assertion that there is only one China.
On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated that the Chinese military “will not sit idly by”, while warning of “glaring” political consequences. Pelosi is a longtime critic of Beijing and has been reviled by Chinese leaders in the past. She visited Tiananmen Square in 1991 early in her career, where she unfurled a banner honoring those who died after a brutal Chinese government crackdown on protests. The police chased Pelosi and the lawmakers traveling with her out of the square.
But members of both parties, including Republican members of Congress, have argued that China has no right to dictate where US officials can travel.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) was asked to travel with Pelosi several weeks ago and at the time the plan was to also travel to Taiwan, his spokeswoman Leslie Shedd said. He was unable to turn up due to a prior engagement, Shedd said, so his office does not know what the final plan was.
“He also believes that the President – or any other US official – should be able to visit Taiwan if he wishes,” Shedd said in a statement.
Pelosi and the lawmakers traveling with her were briefed on the threat possibilities associated with the trip and the intelligence community’s understanding of escalating risks with Beijing, according to people familiar with the visit.
Pelosi began her Asia tour on Sunday with scheduled visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. In a statement before the trip, his office did not mention Taiwan. Pelosi had planned to lead a congressional delegation to Taiwan in April, but delayed the trip after contracting the coronavirus.
For decades, China has tried to force Taiwan into diplomatic isolation by eliminating his allies and launch vocal campaigns against any semblance of recognition of Taiwan as a nation, including visits by foreign dignitaries.
Beijing has repeatedly said it would use force if necessary to “reunite” Taiwan and its 23 million people with the motherland. Taiwan, however, has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, and its people have shown no interest in being ruled by their authoritarian neighbor.
Since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Independence Party, Beijing has stepped up its military rhetoric and threats. Last year, the Chinese air force repeatedly broke daily records for the number of fighter jets it sent close to Taiwan airspace.
On Saturday, the People’s Liberation Army held “live-fire drills” off the Chinese coast opposite Taiwan, near the Pingtan Islands, according to a notice from the Pingtan Maritime Security Administration. On Monday, maritime officials announced new exercises in the South China Sea between Tuesday and Saturday.
Last week, Taiwanese troops held military exercises practice defending against an amphibious assault. Meanwhile, the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its strike group returned to the South China Sea.
The Biden administration is increasingly concerned about the risk of a widespread crisis in the Taiwan Strait. US-China relations are already at an all-time low, as the two superpowers clash over everything from economic power to human rights to military influence, and a conflict between China and Taiwan could draw other powers, including Japan.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an unofficial US delegation of former defense and national security officials traveled to Taiwan to show Washington’s “rock-solid” commitment to the defense of the island.
The increased engagement between US officials and Taipei has led Beijing to fear that Washington has taken steps to change the status quo. That sentiment is fueled by off-the-cuff statements from Biden that deviate from Washington’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan’s defense. On three occasions since August, Biden has suggested the United States would militarily defend Taiwan if attacked by China. Yes,” he said in May, “that’s the commitment we made.” Each time, the White House backed down or watered down the comments.
In the last Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995-96, China launched missiles that landed near Taiwan and the United States sent two aircraft carriers to the area east of Taiwan, Evan said. Medeiros, professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University. But the Chinese military was much less capable then “so there was little risk of escalation”, he said.
“This crisis is unfolding with a much more capable Chinese military and a more confident and frustrated leadership,” said Medeiros, who served as a senior Chinese official in the Barack Obama administration and was part of the unofficial delegation to Taipei in March. “So the main challenges for the United States will be crisis management and escalation control.”
John Hudson contributed to this report.