Pelosi's Taiwan trip in limbo as officials plan other Asia stops

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting support from lawmakers of both parties for a possible trip to Taiwan. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Asia in early August is set to include stops in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore, but a potential Taiwan visit that has already exacerbated US-China tensions remains off the official itinerary, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Malaysia is another potential stop, according to the person, who asked for anonymity to discuss the closely held plans. 

Mrs Pelosi has refused to discuss her travel schedule, citing security concerns, and there’s been no official announcement that she plans an overseas trip.

She is getting bipartisan support for a possible trip to Taiwan, with some lawmakers from both parties arguing that it is important that the top leader in the United States Congress show no sign of giving in to pressure from China's government.

"If we can allow the Chinese to dictate who can visit Taiwan and who cannot, then we have already ceded Taiwan to the Chinese," said Senate foreign relations chair Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who made his own trip to Taiwan in April.

"If they can veto everyone in the world who wants to come to Taiwan, then Taiwan will be isolated. So, I think she has an absolute right to visit and I think the support of Taiwan is important," he added.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who visited Taiwan in late 2021, said "it's an important message that we're not going to cave to the Chinese Communist Party".

The government in Beijing has escalated threats of repercussions since reports last week that Mrs Pelosi was planning a stop in Taiwan during a trip to Asia next month, which would come after an expected call between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday.

Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory, is a particularly sensitive issue.

Mrs Pelosi scrapped a reported trip to Taiwan in April after testing positive for Covid-19. She has refused to discuss her current travel plans, citing security concerns.

She said last week that it was "important for us to show support for Taiwan".

A person familiar with the planning said no decision has been made about a Taiwan stop.

Mr Biden last week suggested the visit is "not a good idea right now", without giving details, but the administration has said the decision is Mrs Pelosi's to make.

Mr John Kirby, spokesman for Mr Biden's National Security Council, declined to discuss any security consultations with Mrs Pelosi's staff, saying the speaker has not announced any travel.

He also criticised the "bellicosity" of statements from China's Defence and Foreign ministries about Mrs Pelosi's potential schedule.

"There's no trip to speak to and rhetoric of that kind only escalates tensions in a completely unnecessary manner," he told reporters at a briefing.

The tough rhetoric from China continued on Wednesday (July 27). When Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was asked during a regular press briefing in Beijing about reports the US may move military assets to the region if Mrs Pelosi does visit, he said his nation is "fully prepared for any eventuality".

Some Republicans are using perceived reticence by Mr Biden as a weapon against him. The Republicans on the House oversight committee tweeted on Tuesday that "Biden is taking orders from Communist China on where members of Congress can travel".

Republican Newt Gingrich, who was the last House speaker to stop in Taiwan when he led a delegation there in 1997, blasted the administration as being too timid and inviting bullying by China.

"And so I commend Nancy," Mr Gingrich said at a policy summit in Washington. "We have enormous disagreements on 98 or 99 per cent of the things. But on this one, I think her instinct is right. I hope she sticks to her guns."

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Tuesday night that he believes Pelosi “shouldn’t back down now” from any plans to visit Taiwan.

McCarthy offered that he’d “love” to lead a bipartisan delegation to Taiwan, should Republicans take over control of the House and he becomes speaker next year.

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