Speaker Nancy Pelosi was expected to look in Singapore on Monday as a part of a closely watched tour of Asia that has stoked fears, including at the best levels of the American government, of dangerously heightened tensions with China over the chance that she would make a stop in Taiwan.
Ms. Pelosi has not confirmed whether she’s going to visit Taiwan, a self-governing democracy of 23 million those who China claims as its own territory. But she had proposed a visit to the island this yr, which was postponed because she contracted the coronavirus, and when asked recently about her travels plans, she said that it was “vital for us to indicate support for Taiwan.”
On Sunday, Ms. Pelosi revealed some more details about her itinerary, which she had previously declined to reveal, citing security concerns. Her office said in a statement that her trip, on which she could be accompanied by a small congressional delegation, would come with visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, to “concentrate on mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance within the Indo-Pacific region.” A posting on the web site of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore said that Ms. Pelosi could be attending a cocktail reception hosted by the group on Monday afternoon.
The potential of a visit to Taiwan by Ms. Pelosi — who could be the highest-ranking American official to go there since 1997, when a previous House speaker, Newt Gingrich, visited — comes at a very delicate time in U.S.-China relations. The Biden administration has grown increasingly nervous that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, might try to maneuver, perhaps with force, against Taiwan inside the following yr and a half.
Mr. Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in a long time, has pledged to pursue reunification with Taiwan, though he has not specified a timeline. Some analysts fear that he may feel pressure to indicate a tricky stance — possibly including military motion — against any perceived challenges to that pledge ahead of a vital Chinese Communist Party Congress this fall, when he is predicted to say a 3rd term as leader.
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Mr. Biden himself has seemingly alluded to the danger of a clash with China if Ms. Pelosi visits. Asked recently by reporters concerning the proposed trip, he said that “the military thinks it’s not a superb idea immediately.” The president has also been shoring up U.S. relations with Asian allies as a possible counterweight to China’s rise.
China has not specified how it will react if Ms. Pelosi’s visit went ahead. During a two-hour phone call between Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden on Thursday, their first direct conversation in 4 months, Mr. Xi warned Mr. Biden against “fiddling with fire” on the Taiwan issue, in accordance with a Chinese government statement that didn’t explicitly mention the House speaker.
Others have been more direct in denouncing the potential visit. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, told reporters last week that China would take “firm and resolute measures” if Ms. Pelosi visited Taiwan and that america could be “chargeable for all the serious consequences.” Some political analysts and state media commentators have suggested that China would activate its air force to forestall the visit — raising the specter of armed conflict.
The Chinese military announced it will conduct drills on Saturday with live ammunition within the waters off southeastern Fujian Province, about 80 miles from Taiwan. On Sunday, a spokesman for the Chinese air force said that the country’s fighter jets flew around Taiwan to reinforce the power to defend territorial integrity, without specifying dates.
The Biden administration insists that its stance on Taiwan has not modified, a message that Mr. Biden relayed to Mr. Xi during their phone call, in accordance with the White House. Longstanding American policy acknowledges, without endorsing, China’s position that Taiwan is a component of its territory, and holds that america would protect the island without saying exactly how.
However the president has little official authority over Ms. Pelosi and her travel plans. And rising anti-China sentiment in each the Democratic and Republican parties makes it awkward politically for Mr. Biden to openly discourage her trip.
Some Chinese and American analysts have played down the risks of military escalation, noting that Mr. Xi would probably wish to avoid unpredictability ahead of the Party Congress this yr.
The Chinese government perhaps gave a foretaste of how it can reply to Ms. Pelosi’s visit when the military announced live-fire exercises in waters 80 miles from neighboring Taiwan’s coast. A spokesman for China’s air force also declared that the force has the “firm will, full confidence and sufficient capability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
At the identical time, domestic politics, in each China and america, has left little room for graceful de-escalation, said Chen Qi, a professor of diplomacy at Tsinghua University in Beijing. It could cost the Democrats politically if Ms. Pelosi decides not to go to Taiwan, Professor Chen said in an interview with a journalist for Xinhua, China’s state news agency. And China cannot afford to be seen as weak within the face of a perceived provocation.
“Now it’s as much as who blinks first,” Professor Chen said.
John Liu and Claire Fu contributed research.