China threatens to take unspecified 'firm & strong measures' if US House Speaker Pelosi visits Taiwan

Pelosi's Asia trip, originally scheduled for April, may have a surprise Taiwan visit.

Tan Min-Wei | July 28, 2022, 06:05 PM

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Speaker for the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi is rumoured to be arranging an unannounced visit to the island of Taiwan, angering China’s government.

Trip to Taiwan by highest ranking U.S. politician in 25 years

Pelosi, who is from U.S. President Joe Biden’s Democratic party, is planning a trip to Asia in early August, according to Bloomberg.

She is said to be planning to visit Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and possibly Malaysia. However, the possibility of an unscheduled visit to Taiwan is angering China.

Pelosi is the second in line of succession to the U.S. presidency. If she makes the trip, it would be the first trip made by the highest-ranking U.S. politician to Taiwan in 25 years.

The Chinese government considers Taiwan a breakaway province, and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control, despite not having controlled Taiwan previously.

Pelosi's travel schedule has not been revealed, ostensibly for security purposes.

Her Asia trip had initially been scheduled for April 2022, but she had been diagnosed with Covid-19 just prior to her trip, forcing it to be rescheduled. She was also been rumoured to be planning to visit Taiwan in April.

China might see it as a coordinated decision with Biden

Pelosi’s potential visit is not unprecedented, although it is rare. In 1997, the then Speaker of the House, Republican Newt Gingrich, also visited Taiwan.

But, as a Global Times commentator put it, Gingrich was of a different political party from the incumbent president at the time, Democrat Bill Clinton, therefore the trip “did not represent the will of the Clinton administration”, but was “more a product of U.S. domestic politics”.

The commentator also posited that a Pelosi visit would have a “high degree of coordination” between Biden and Pelosi, and would represent a “radical adjustment in the U.S. Taiwan policy.”

China’s position, if anything, has hardened since 25 years ago. Also, according to Bloomberg, Chinese President Xi Jinping is seeking support to cement a third term, and can't afford to look weak in the face of perceived foreign effort to go against the one-China principle. This might in turn convince him to take extraordinary action.

China warns of action if trip is made

Speaking to Bloomberg, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that “the Chinese side has repeatedly made clear its concern” and its “firm opposition” to the visit, and that China was “getting seriously prepared”.

He also said China would take "firm and strong measures" to safeguard its "sovereignty and territorial integrity".

In addition, China's defence ministry has threatened "strong measures" to thwart any "separatist attempts".

China has not specified the measures it would take if the trip was made.

Though the language used by Beijing might appear harsh, it's considered to be regular language when it comes to Taiwan. The trip was not hyped up in domestic media as well.

Bloomberg has also mooted several options that China might consider, from increasingly daring incursions into Taiwanese airspace, to missile tests. They might also consider sending military assets to “shadow” Pelosi’s possible flight to Taiwan, or even shoot her plane down.

U.S. officials, however, have expressed doubts that China would take direct action against Pelosi or try to sabotage the visit, according to The Washington Post.

Biden expressed caution over Pelosi's visit

However, despite certain assumptions among the Chinese leadership that the decision has been coordinated with Biden, Biden for his part appears to be signalling caution over Pelosi’s visit. While he himself has not revealed his thoughts about the trip, according to the Associated Press, he revealed that the military thought Pelosi’s visit is “not a good idea right now”.

Other U.S. leaders have voiced their support for Pelosi’s visit, most notably from the opposition Republican party. Pelosi’s opposite number, House Minority leader Kevin McCartney has said that he supported the trip, and would lead a bipartisan delegation should his party win upcoming midterm elections at the end of 2022.

The runup to the visit comes as China-U.S. relations continue to deteriorate, in no small part due to the contested issue of Taiwan, but also due to differences over trade, technological development, and human rights issues in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Biden and Xi to talk over the phone

In the light of these tensions, Xi and Biden are due to speak via telephone on July 28. Undoubtedly, Taiwan will be a topic of conversation and contention, although CNBC reports that the leaders will also bring up areas of mutual cooperation.

According to Reuters, Biden's government has been thinking about relaxing some tariffs imposed on China in a bid to control inflation in the U.S.

Meanwhile, an American aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, and its strike group, have left Singapore after a port visit to return to the South China Sea. As reported by Reuters, it is resuming normal activities in the region, something that China disputes, accusing the U.S. of “flexing its muscles”.

Pelosi herself has a history of being hawkish on China and the CPC. In 1991, while on an official visit to Beijing, she took an unscheduled trip to Tiananmen Square and unfurled a banner to commemorate the students killed there in 1989.

This incident was recounted by Mike Chinoy in Foreign Policy, senior fellow at the U.S.-China Institute, who also questioned whether Pelosi’s visit was “symbolism over substance”, and if there was any value to her visit.

He also commented that it led to a difficult dilemma for U.S. leaders. Refusing to follow through with the visit would open them to claims of being “soft on China”, but going through with it might provoke a dangerous crisis.

Top image via Nancy Pelosi/Twitter & Getty Images