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White House decries China rhetoric over Nancy Pelosi Taiwan visit

The House speaker is expected to arrive on the self-ruling island on Tuesday as part of her Asian tour, prompting concern Beijing could take retaliatory steps.
Pelosi meeting with Malaysia's Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Azhar Azizan Harun in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.Famer Roheni / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday decried Beijing’s rhetoric over an expected visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, vowing the United States “will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling” and has no interest in increasing tensions with China.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby underscored that the decision on whether to visit the self-ruled island that China claims as its own was ultimately Pelosi’s. He noted that members of Congress have routinely visited Taiwan over the years.

Kirby said administration officials are concerned that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, flying sorties into Taiwan’s airspace and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.

“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.

The Biden administration pushed back on Beijing as Pelosi held talks with officials in Singapore on Monday at the start of her Asian tour.

While there have been no official announcements, local media in Taiwan reported that Pelosi will arrive Tuesday night, making her the highest-ranking elected U.S. official to visit in more than 25 years. The United Daily News, Liberty Times and China Times — Taiwan’s three largest national newspapers — cited unidentified sources as saying she would arrive in Taipei after visiting Malaysia and spend the night.

Talk of such a visit is sparking fury in Beijing, which regards Taiwan as its own territory and has repeatedly warned of “serious consequences” if the reported trip goes ahead.

“If Pelosi insists on visiting Taiwan, China will take resolute and strong measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing, without giving details.

“Those who play with fire will perish by it,” Zhao said. “We would like to once again admonish the U.S. that we are fully prepared for any eventuality and the PLA will never sit idly by.” The People’s Liberation Army is China’s military.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun reiterated Beijing’s threat to take action if Pelosi makes what he called a “provocative” visit to Taiwan, reiterating that the “one China principle” is a “red line” and “we allow no one to cross this red line.”

Zhang told a news conference at the start of China’s presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month that Taiwan’s tendency toward independence is further developing “with the support of some external forces,” which he didn’t name.

“So, if we do not take appropriate, forceful action to stop it, and the situation might be even out of control,” Zhang said. “So it is legitimate for the Chinese government, for the Chinese military, to take any action to prevent Taiwan to go further down the wrong direction, namely towards independence.”

Zhang said he wasn’t in a position to reveal what actions, “but what I can tell is that the firmness, the determination is there. We will do whatever we can to defend our sovereignty and the territorial integrity.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping also warned the U.S. against meddling in Beijing’s dealings with the island in a phone call last week with President Joe Biden.

China has been steadily ratcheting up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. Threats of retaliation for a visit by Pelosi have driven concerns of a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the two sides, that could roil global markets and supply chains.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don’t support. Pelosi, head of one of three branches of the U.S. government, would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.

The Biden administration has tried to assure Beijing there was no reason to “come to blows” and that if such a visit occurred, it would signal no change in U.S. policy. Administration officials on Monday called on China to tone down the rhetoric, underscoring that there was no reason for Beijing to escalate tensions in the Taiwan Strait over the potential visit.

“What I can say is this: This is very much precedent in the sense that previous speakers have visited Taiwan, many members of Congress go to Taiwan, including this year,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “And so, 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.”