U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived Monday in Singapore for a two-day official visit, amid speculation that her Asia trip could include a stop in Taiwan — a possibility that prompted the White House to reassure Beijing that U.S. policy has not changed, and to urge Chinese leaders not to escalate an already strained relationship between the two great powers.
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Monday that the White House could not confirm whether Pelosi intends to defy China by visiting Taiwan, but stressed that as the leader of the House of Representatives, she “makes her own decisions” on official travel.
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis conflict or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Kirby in noting that Beijing understands Congress’ role in the U.S. system of government.
“Congress is an independent, co-equal branch of government,” Blinken said. “The decision is entirely the speaker’s. What I can say is this: this is very much precedent, in the sense that previous speakers visited Taiwan. Many members of Congress go to Taiwan, including this year. If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing. We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”
But China’s foreign ministry on Monday reiterated that they would see a visit as an unacceptable violation of what it sees as its sovereignty over the self-ruled island.
“We are closely following the itinerary of Speaker Pelosi,” said spokesman Zhao Lijian. “A visit to Taiwan by her would constitute a gross interference in China’s internal affairs, seriously undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, wantonly trample on the one-China principle, greatly threaten peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, severely undermine China-U.S. relations and lead to a very serious situation and grave consequences.”
In a statement Sunday, Pelosi said she is leading a group of five other Democratic Party lawmakers to Asia “to reaffirm America’s strong and unshakeable commitment to our allies and friends in the region.”
She did not mention whether she will stop in Taiwan on the trip that has Malaysia, South Korea and Japan among the U.S. delegation’s scheduled visits.
Pelosi herself has indirectly spoken about such a possibility, even though her office has not confirmed it, citing security protocols.
It would be the highest-level U.S. visit to Taiwan since 1997, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich led a congressional delegation there.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war, with the defeated nationalist forces fleeing to Taiwan and setting up a government that later grew into a vibrant democracy.
Since then, China’s Communist Party has vowed to take Taiwan, using force if necessary, even though the island has never been led by the Communist Party.
White House officials said Monday that they expect Beijing to keep communicating with Washington./VOA