China calls US House Speaker Pelosi’s expected Taiwan visit 'provocative', threatens countermeasures

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to visit Taiwan's Parliament on Aug 3 morning. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI/BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP, NYTIMES) - China has been in communication with the United States over US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Tuesday (Aug 2).

Mrs Pelosi was set to visit Taiwan on Tuesday, various reports said, as China warned that its military would never “sit idly by” if she were to visit the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.

The Chinese spokesperson added that Beijing hopes the US can be "clear about the gravity and sensitivity of this matter".

US President Joe Biden had told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on a call last week that “congress is an independent branch of government and that Speaker Pelosi makes her own decisions”.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Hua hit back at that idea, saying congress was part of the US government and should abide by its foreign policy.

“When the House speaker, being the third-highest ranking figure in the US government, flies on a US military plane to make a provocative visit to the Taiwan region, it is not certainly not unofficial behavior,” she said at a briefing in Beijing, adding that any countermeasures from Beijing would be “justified” in response to such “unscrupulous behaviour”.

China would be in touch with its US ambassador “when appropriate,” she said.

Taiwan's Liberty Times, said Mrs Pelosi was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday night and visit Taiwan’s Parliament on Wednesday morning before continuing her Asia trip, which began earlier on Monday in Singapore. Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports.

The Financial Times said she would meet Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday in Taipei.

Taiwan's EBC News said Mrs Pelosi would arrive in Taipei after 10pm on Tuesday and stay at the Grand Hyatt Taipei hotel. She would leave the island on Wednesday afternoon, after meeting Ms Tsai.

Both CNN and Taiwan’s TVBS news cited unnamed sources on Monday to report that Mrs Pelosi does indeed plan to include Taiwan on her Asia tour.

Caution washed across financial markets in the countdown to Mrs Pelosi’s visit, Bloomberg reported. MSCI Inc’s Asia-Pacific stock index slid the most in three weeks, with some of the steepest falls in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. US and European equity futures were also in the red. Treasuries and the yen climbed amid demand for havens. 

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it had no comment on reports of Mrs Pelosi’s travel plans.

When asked about Mrs Pelosi’s visit. Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-chang on Tuesday reiterated that Taiwan “warmly welcomes” foreign guests, adding that the island “would make the most appropriate arrangements” for such guests and respect their plans.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that a potential visit to Taiwan by Mrs Pelosi would be entirely her decision, but called on China not to escalate tensions in the event of a visit.

“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,” Mr Blinken said after nuclear nonproliferation talks at the United Nations.

“We are looking for them (China) – in the event she decides to visit – to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”

With tensions rising along with Mrs Pelosi’s travels across Asia, Mr John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the administration was concerned that China would potentially fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait, send warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone, or stage large-scale naval or air activities that cross the median line in the middle of the strait.

A video by the Eastern Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army, which showed scenes of military exercises and preparations and was posted on Chinese state media sites on Monday evening, urged troops to “stand by in battle formation, be ready to fight upon command, bury all incoming enemies”.

“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Mr Kirby said at a White House briefing.

“Meanwhile, our actions are not threatening, and they break no new ground. Nothing about this potential visit – potential visit – which by the way has precedent, would change the status quo," he said.

Mr Kirby did not say whether US intelligence agencies had detected any concrete indications of Chinese actions, but he was unusually specific in outlining the possible responses that the US anticipated.

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White House officials have privately expressed concern that a visit by Mrs Pelosi would touch off a dangerous cycle of escalation in Asia at the same time Washington is already consumed with helping Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion.

Mr Kirby said American officials did not necessarily anticipate an attack by China in response but cautioned that the possible military demonstrations of force could touch off conflict by mistake.

“It does increase the risk of miscalculation, which could lead to unintended consequences,” Mr Kirby said.

He seemed particularly intent on getting the message through to Beijing that it should not view any visit by Mrs Pelosi as a fresh provocation by the US since she would not be the first speaker to go there.

Mr Kirby also stressed repeatedly that the US still subscribed to its "one China" policy of not recognising independence for Taiwan.

“We’ve laid out very clearly if she goes – if she goes – it’s not without precedent,” he said. “It’s not new. It doesn’t change anything."

China's response

China views visits by US officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp in the island.A visit by Mrs Pelosi to Taiwan would undermine China and the US’ relationship, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun said on Monday.

“Such a visit is apparently very much dangerous, very much provocative,” Mr Zhang told a news conference to mark the start of China’s presidency of the UN Security Council for August.

“If such a visit happens it will also undermine the relationship between China and the United States.”

Mr Zhang also said that such a visit by Mrs Pelosi should not be compared to the last time a US House speaker - Republican Newt Gingrich - visited the island in 1997.

“An early mistake does not make the following mistake legitimate,” Mr Zhang said. “Furthermore the situation in Taiwan is also changing with the support of some external forces.”

He added: “Taiwan’s tendency towards independence is further developing. If we do not take appropriate, forceful action to stop it...the situation might be even out of control."

Mr Zhang urged Washington to honour its commitment to the "one China" principle, which he said US President Joe Biden reiterated during a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week.

Washington follows a “one China policy” that recognises Beijing, not Taipei, diplomatically. But it is obliged by US law to provide the democratically governed Taiwan with the means to defend itself, and pressure has mounted in Congress for more explicit support.

A visit by Mrs Pelosi, who is second in the line of succession to the US presidency and a long-time critic of China, would come amid worsening ties between Washington and Beijing.

China accused the US of double standards at the UN last Friday for challenging Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan while emphasising the principle of sovereignty for Ukraine after Russian forces invaded.

Mr Zhang stressed on Monday: “We will do whatever we can to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

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In an editorial on Monday, China Daily newspaper said that should Mrs Pelosi visit Taiwan, it will be a watershed event in cross-Strait relations as well as Sino-US relations.

"The Biden administration would lose Beijing's trust by challenging the latter's red line again. The separation of powers in the US by no means makes Pelosi's Taiwan trip excusable," it said, in referring to the three branches of the US government - executive, legislative, and judicial - which are kept separate.

"If she does visit the island, it will deal a heavy blow to the already precarious Sino-US ties and add even more uncertainties to the already volatile global situation."

Professor Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University in Beijing, said that if Mrs Pelosi visits Taiwan, it would prompt the strongest countermeasures by Beijing in years, but he did not expect that to trigger a major military conflict.

“China has reiterated in no ambiguous terms its opposition to Taiwan separatism. The US has reiterated many times its one-China policy has not changed and that it is against any change to the status quo by either side of the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

“Unless by accident, I am sure neither side would intentionally take military action that could lead to a major security risk.”

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