WASHINGTON — The United States warned China Monday not to respond to an expected trip to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with military provocations, even as U.S. officials tried to reassure Beijing that such a visit would not be the first. of its kind nor would it represent any change in policy towards the region.
With tensions rising on the eve of Ms. Pelosi’s anticipated arrival in Taipei, the White House said it was concerned China could fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait, send fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone or conduct large-scale naval or air activities that cross traditional lines.
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with longstanding US policy into some kind of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” said John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters. “In the meantime,” he added, “our actions are non-threatening and do not break new ground. Nothing about this potential visit, potential visit, which, by the way, has a precedent, would change the status quo.”
But Beijing made it clear that it was not calm. “We would like to tell the United States once again that China is standing by, that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by, and that China will give resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters. “As for what measures, if she dares to go, then let’s wait and see.”
The standoff over the speaker’s visit has frayed nerves on both sides of the Pacific at a time when the United States is already obsessed with helping Ukraine fight Russia’s invasion. Even as they tried to avoid a confrontation in Asia on Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other officials announced a new $550 million arms shipment to Ukraine.
While military, intelligence and diplomatic officials who briefed Ms. Pelosi before she left for Asia warned that a stop in Taiwan could instigate a response that could spiral out of control, President Biden stopped short of urging her not to go out of deference. to your state. as head of a separate and equal branch of government.
In a phone call with President Xi Jinping of China last week, Mr. Biden explained that he did not control Ms. Pelosi and, as a longtime former member of Congress, respected her right to make her own decisions. But US officials fear that China will not accept that it is powerless to stop it.
Mr. Blinken emphasized that point on Monday. “The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not she will visit Taiwan,” he said. “Congress is an independent and equal branch of government. The decision is entirely up to the speaker.
He added that members of Congress routinely travel to Taiwan, including earlier this year. “So if the speaker decides to visit, and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely Beijing’s fault,” Blinken said. “We are looking for them, should she decide to visit, to act responsibly and not participate in any escalation in the future.”
Ms. Pelosi, who arrived in Singapore on Monday, has not officially confirmed her plan to stop in Taiwan, citing security concerns. But local reports in Taiwan said that she had told officials that she would arrive Tuesday night or Wednesday morning local time. She originally planned to visit Taiwan in April, but she canceled that trip after testing positive for the coronavirus.
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US officials monitoring intelligence reports have become convinced in recent days that China is preparing a hostile response of some kind, not a direct attack on Taiwan or an effort to intercept Ms. Pelosi’s plane, as some fear. , but an assertion of military power that may go beyond even the aggressive encounters of recent months. Some cited the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995 and 1996, when China fired missiles to intimidate the self-governing island and President Bill Clinton ordered aircraft carriers to the area.
Analysts said a similar conflict could be much more dangerous today because the People’s Liberation Army is much more robust than it was then, now armed with missiles that could wipe out aircraft carriers. The concern is that even if no combat is intended, an accidental encounter could easily get out of control.
“This is an exceptionally dangerous situation, perhaps more so than Ukraine,” said Evan Medeiros, a China expert at Georgetown University and a former Asia adviser to President Barack Obama. “The risks of escalation are immediate and substantial.”
At the White House, Kirby did not say whether US intelligence agencies had spotted concrete signs of Chinese action, but he was unusually specific in outlining possible responses the US anticipated.
White House officials have privately expressed concern that a visit by Pelosi would set off a dangerous cycle of escalation in Asia at the same time Washington is already consumed with helping Ukraine fight Russia’s invasion. Much of the US military industrial complex is busy arming Ukraine, which could hamper efforts to boost arms shipments to Taiwan.
Kirby said US officials did not necessarily anticipate an attack by China in response, but warned that potential military shows of force could trigger a conflict by mistake. “It increases the risk of miscalculations, which could have unintended consequences,” Kirby said.
He seemed particularly intent on getting the message across to Beijing that it should not view any visit by Ms Pelosi as a new provocation by the United States, as she would not be the first speaker to go there; Speaker Newt Gingrich stopped in Taiwan in 1997. Mr. Kirby also repeatedly emphasized that the United States still subscribes to its one-China policy of not recognizing Taiwan’s independence.
“We’ve established very clearly if she leaves, if she leaves, it’s not unprecedented,” he said. “It is not new. Nothing changes”.
While White House officials had little hope of dissuading Beijing, they chose to outline possible Chinese responses to set the geopolitical terrain in the event of a provocation lest it come as a surprise.
But even if they get through the immediate conflict without an escalation, officials worry the dispute will hasten an increasingly assertive stance by China, which has been moving in that direction in recent months anyway. Analysts said Xi cannot afford to appear weak ahead of a critical party congress in November, when she will seek a third term.
Just as Xi’s domestic politics were a factor, so were Biden’s and Pelosi’s. Even if the speaker wanted to cancel her stopover in Taiwan, it would be problematic at home because it would be seen as an act of appeasement with a retaliatory power. Republicans have been particularly vocal in encouraging her to go ahead with the trip regardless of the Biden administration’s misgivings.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said China should not pressure the United States on his trip. “I pray that the leaders of the Communist Party of #China remember the old but wise advice,” wrote on Twitterquoting an aphorism, “When anger arises, think of the consequences.”
“We may have deep political differences internally,” he added, “but we will respond with unshakable unity if we are threatened from abroad.”