US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sets off on Asia tour, no mention of Taiwan on list
- Pelosi is leading a congressional delegation to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, statement from her office says
- Beijing would see a Taiwan visit by Pelosi as a ‘provocation’ and her carefully worded statement does not rule out the possibility
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has begun her anticipated trip to Asia, with her office naming four destinations but making no mention of Taiwan.
The release of her itinerary comes amid more warnings from Beijing over her possible visit to the island.
Pelosi, No 3 in the line of US presidential succession, is leading a six-member congressional delegation to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, according to a statement released by her office on Sunday.
But the careful wording of the statement did not rule out the possibility of a visit either.
“In Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, our delegation will hold high-level meetings to discuss how we can further advance our shared interests and values, including peace and security, economic growth and trade, the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, human rights and democratic governance,” the statement said.
“America is firmly committed to smart, strategic engagement in the region, understanding that a free and flourishing Indo-Pacific is crucial to prosperity in our nation and around the globe.”
Singapore’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that Pelosi would be visiting for two days starting on Monday.
The delegation she led includes Gregory Meeks, chairman of the US House foreign affairs committee, Mark Takano, chairman of the veterans’ affairs committee, and Suzan DelBene, vice chairwoman of the ways and means committee. Two other Democratic congressmen, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Andy Kim, are also travelling with her.
It earlier described the possible trip to Taiwan as a move to support “Taiwan independence”, in violation of the one-China policy.
But the possibility for a stopover in Taiwan has not been ruled out completely.
“The statement is very carefully written. It only says that Pelosi is going for a trip to the Indo-Pacific region, including four nations while making no mention of Taiwan. So, in the case of Pelosi making a surprise visit to Taiwan, the press release still holds as she has never formally acknowledged or denied that Taiwan is a stop in her trip,” said Wu Junfei, a researcher at the Hong Kong-China Economic and Cultural Development Association think tank.
“For now, Pelosi still has ample room to manoeuvre. The final result will still depend on how China and the US continue with the negotiations.”
China has doubled down on its warning rhetoric to the US. On Saturday the state broadcaster CCTV published for the first time a video showing the launch of DF-17 hypersonic missile – a clip that was later deleted.
The move has been widely seen as a clear warning, even though the video, which was subtitled “the target: win”, was ostensibly celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the army.
Since Friday, the Chinese military started a series of exercises, including live-fire drills in the waters off Fujian, the province adjacent to Taiwan Island.
Air force spokesman Shen Jinke said on Sunday: “The air force has a strong will, full confidence and sufficient capability to defend the national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Xiaoyu Pu, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada in Reno, said one possibility was that Pelosi could touch down on Taiwan “just for a short while” before proceeding to Japan and South Korea.
If that happens, he predicted a strong military response from Beijing but not to the point of no return.
“You have to bear in mind that while China is putting tremendous pressure on the Biden administration to stop the trip, it is also hard for her to back down from this trip after the hype. There will be lots of domestic political pressures if the trip is cancelled, given the current anti-China atmosphere in the US,” Pu said.
“Xi [Jinping] and [Joe] Biden had certainly spoken on this issue on their recent call. Both sides must have talked about potential responses and consequences … Both sides shall leave some rooms for the preparation of their face-to-face meeting in November.”
Online flight trackers showed that a plane believed to be carrying Pelosi’s party had landed in Hawaii in the early hours of Saturday and stayed there for 16 hours.
The plane then took off at 7pm local time (5am on Sunday GMT) heading towards Asia, about an hour before Pelosi’s statement was released.
Pelosi said they had a fuel stop in Hawaii where they also had a briefing from US Indo-Pacific Command leadership, as well as a visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the USS Arizona.
Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of state-owned tabloid Global Times, posted on Weibo that Pelosi’s latest statement may have been an attempt to “reduce the provocative meaning of her visit to Taiwan”, but “as long as she lands in Taiwan, the Chinese side will not accept it”.
He added: “Now we must not be careless, and must continue to warn her loudly: do not go to Taiwan, there will be serious consequences.”
Biden last week said the Pentagon believes it is “not a good idea” for Pelosi to visit Taiwan at the moment.