Beijing warns US of ‘forceful’ reply to Taiwan visit by Pelosi
- Planned visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would ‘shake the political foundation of China-US relations’, Chinese foreign ministry says
- The risk and cost would be huge, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences analyst warns
The talks would aim to manage increasing tensions between the two rival nations, but a Taiwan trip by Pelosi risks upending that mission, Chinese diplomatic observers warned.
“All efforts to [maintain bilateral ties] will be in ruins if Pelosi goes ahead with the trip, no matter whether Xi and Biden have a good talk,” Lu Xiang, US-China expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said.
“The risk and cost would be huge, and it could possibly be a game changer.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Pelosi’s trip would be a serious violation of Beijing’s sovereignty and severely “shake the political foundation of China-US relations”.
“If the US insists on going its own way, China will take forceful measures to resolutely respond and counter it, and we will do what we say,” Wang said on Thursday.
He declined to reveal when the Xi-Biden talks would take place, saying only that the two leaders maintain various forms of communication.
This comes as Taiwan emerges as a major friction point between Beijing and Washington, already at odds over issues including trade and human rights.
While US officials have reiterated Washington’s commitment to help Taiwan defend itself, an enraged Beijing – which sees the self-ruled island as a breakaway province – has stepped up military exercises round it, including repeated warplane sorties into its air defence identification zone.
China’s ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, said Washington’s increasingly close political and military ties with Taiwan and human rights criticism were worsening ties.
Media reports earlier suggested that Pelosi would travel to Taiwan next month, marking the first such visit by a speaker of the US House of Representatives in 25 years.
Pelosi originally planned to visit Taiwan in April, but that trip was cancelled after she caught Covid-19.
Pelosi’s office did not confirm the trip, and the Financial Times reported that it could still be called off.
Biden, meanwhile, said the Pentagon did not support the trip, revealing divisions in the US administration over whether Pelosi should visit Taiwan.
“I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now, but I don’t know what the status of it is,” the US president said on Wednesday.
Lu, from the CASS, said the Pentagon would have to be involved in the trip, including the use of military aircraft.
He also said the US would need to assess the likely reactions from the Chinese military, and how its own military might want to respond.
“[For instance] will the air force and missiles of Taiwan respond? If so, how will things emerge and what will happen to the US military?”
A source close to the Chinese military said it was possible that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would stage even larger exercises around Taiwan when Pelosi visits.
A string of US lawmakers and former officials have visited Taiwan in recent months, stressing their support for the self-governed island as Washington seeks to build closer ties.
“[The US] should not allow China to decide the visiting itineraries of US officials,” Esper said in Taipei as he wrapped up his four-day trip on Thursday.
Such visits helped US political leaders get a grasp of issues on the ground in Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait separating the island from mainland China, Esper asserted, as he wrapped up his four-day trip on Thursday.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Thursday said it had taken note of Biden’s comments regarding Pelosi’s visit, but had no “precise information” about it.
Li Da-jung, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in New Taipei, said Biden’s words reflected his administration’s concerns about the possible impact of such a visit.
“Although the US has maintained robust ties with Taiwan, Biden might not want Pelosi’s visit to steal the spotlight from his talks with Xi, as their dialogue should concern more pragmatic and practical issues facing the US and mainland China,” Li said.
Given that Pelosi is the House speaker and a veteran politician, saying it was the military’s belief that the visit was not a good idea allowed Biden to avoid offending her directly, he added.
Li also believes Beijing would react militarily to Pelosi’s trip, but was unlikely to use it as a pretext for conflict with either Taiwan or the US.
Drew Thompson, a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said it was a bit surprising that the Pentagon would make a recommendation about the timing of a visit by the US House Speaker.
This is because Congress is a different branch of government and a visit by Pelosi is beyond the Pentagon’s policy purview, said Thompson, a former Pentagon official responsible for managing China relations.
“I would surmise that the president received briefings about possible Chinese government responses to a visit, which included assessments about potential PLA and Chinese government responses,” he said.
But Biden has made offhand remarks before, he pointed out.
“President Biden’s comment lacks context and to make more sense would need to articulate when a good time for a visit would be, as well as an explanation why the timing is not right now. Without providing such a rationale, the comment is impenetrable.”
However, White House officials had hastened to walk back Biden’s remarks, saying Washington’s policy towards Taiwan remained unchanged.
Additional reporting by Amber Wang and Minnie Chan