SPEAKER of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, has dampened the hopes of pro-Taipei colleagues by pledging to consult President Bill Clinton before any invitation is issued to the Taiwanese leader. For weeks, United States officials have been concerned about a growing swell of opinion on Capitol Hill for issuing what would be an explosive invitation to President Lee Teng-hui to address a Joint Session of Congress if he wins the forthcoming presidential election. The White House views such a prospect with panic, since it will either have to decline a visa to Mr Lee, which will anger Congress, or give the go-ahead and incite a certain showdown with Beijing. After receiving a delegation of Kuomintang aides close to Mr Lee this week - where the issue was almost certainly discussed - Mr Gingrich appeared surprisingly conciliatory to the White House on the issue. 'Congress does not extend invitations,' he said. 'I think the Clinton administration, in its own discussions, will decide what's the best thing to do. We would be co-operative with President Clinton. We don't make foreign policy.' The Speaker called China's recent military threats against Taiwan 'unfortunate' but would not be drawn on whether the US should speed up deliveries of anti-missile systems to Taipei. His comments on the invitation to Mr Lee is a startling U-turn from his previous hard-line position of recognising Taiwan and allowing it into the United Nations. His change of heart has been attributed to former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who last year advised him to tone down his comments on Taiwan for fear of inciting serious conflict with China. The Speaker did, however, warn this week that China's 'military bluster' might have an adverse effect on Hong Kong. 'I believe it would also affect Hong Kong, that Hong Kong's prosperity is a function of Hong Kong's openness and its ability to reach out to the world. 'I think that to the degree the mainland regime does not understand that, in the long run they will weaken the vitality of Hong Kong,' Mr Gingrich said. 'We think it is important for the two Chinas to be able to talk to each other . . . I think it is inappropriate to have any kind of threat of military force or any kind of effort to subjugate people by coercion.' Meanwhile, a group of congressmen has written to Secretary of State Warren Christopher urging him to condemn China for the state of its orphanages recently documented by Human Rights Watch/Asia. The letter says the US should put pressure on Beijing to allow observers to inspect its orphanage system, and pursue a tougher line on condemning China at the UN's annual human rights meeting in Geneva.