Nancy Pelosi on her way to Singapore, silent on Taiwan

Speaker Nancy Pelosi kicked off a busy tour of Asia on Sunday, a tour that administration officials say now expects to include a stopover in Taiwan, despite increasingly pointed warnings from the China in recent days that a visit to the self-governing island would provoke a response, possibly a military one.

Ms Pelosi was due to arrive in Singapore on Monday, after a weekend stopover in Hawaii to consult with US commanders responsible for the Indo-Pacific. She said in A declaration that she planned to travel with a congressional delegation for high-level meetings in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, and did not mention Taiwan.

But it wouldn’t be unusual to omit Taiwan from an announcement given security concerns, and President Biden’s aides said she must press ahead with the plan for a top US official’s visit to the country. island in 25 years. Ms Pelosi could still change her mind about traveling to Taiwan, administration officials said, but added that seemed unlikely.

Mr Biden’s aides said he decided not to ask Ms Pelosi directly to cancel his trip, largely because of his respect for the independence of Congress, forged during his 36 years in office. Senate. He is also clearly reluctant to back down in the face of Chinese threats, including Beijing’s warning that the United States was “playing with fire”, which followed Mr Biden’s intervention. conversation of nearly two and a half hours Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Basically, some officials said, the administration concluded after the call that the potential national and geostrategic risks of trying to stop the visit — including letting China dictate which U.S. officials might visit a 23-hour self-governing democracy millions of people China claims as its own – were more important than allowing Ms Pelosi to continue. But they admitted there was little good intelligence on how quickly China might react.

Privately, U.S. officials have urged the Chinese government to ignore the visit, noting that Newt Gingrich visited there in 1997 when he was Speaker of the House, and congressional delegations regularly visit the country. island to express American support for its defence. But the strategic environment of Mr. Gingrich’s trip was entirely different, and in recent years Mr. Xi has made it clear that he considers reunification with Taiwan a priority.

US officials watched the Chinese government’s preparations carefully over the weekend, trying to discern Beijing’s intentions. The clearest sign they’ve seen is in the Taiwan Strait, where provocations, tests and signals are taking place every week. The Chinese army announcement on Saturday, with less notice than usual, that it would conduct live ammunition drills in the waters off southeastern Fujian province, about 80 miles from Taiwan.

On Sunday, a spokesperson for the Chinese Air Force said, without specifying dates, that the country’s fighter jets would fly over Taiwan to demonstrate its ability to defend its territory. This raised the possibility that the exercise was timed to meet the US Air Force plane Ms Pelosi and her delegation are taking. Their trip was part of a series of efforts to reassure the region that the United States is still committed to its Indo-Pacific ‘pivot’, even as it pours tens of billions of dollars of military aid to the Ukraine, to protect it against the Russian invasion.

US officials doubt the Chinese military will interfere with Ms Pelosi’s ability to land safely in Taiwan, betting that Beijing does not want a direct confrontation with the United States. But they say it’s possible Chinese planes are “escorting” Ms Pelosi’s plane, as a show of control over air routes.

This creates the possibility, officials fear, of an accident – similar to the one that occurred two decades ago when a Chinese air force plane collided with a US spy plane and shot him down, leading to an early crisis in the George W. Bush administration.

Officials say they have no reliable information about what the Chinese government might be planning. But they expect the most significant reaction could come after Ms Pelosi leaves, and could include military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait, cyberattacks or communications blackouts that would demonstrate Beijing’s ability to suffocate the island, which is also that of the world – and that of China. — the largest supplier of the most advanced semiconductors in the world.

In recent weeks, US intelligence officials have warned that China may be preparing to act against the island sooner rather than later. Intelligence analysts have concluded that China may fear that the US commitment to help turn the island into a ‘porcupine’ – armed with weapons of the type supplied to Ukraine to repel the Russians – make Mr. Xi and his army think that they have to move in the next 18 months, lest they lose the military advantage.

A move could involve an incident in the strait or an effort to squeeze and isolate the island, without a full invasion. But the warning is based more on analysis, officials say, than on new intelligence findings.

William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, said in July that China seemed “disturbed” by Russia’s struggles in Ukraine and could conclude that it must develop “overwhelming” capabilities before considering any action against it. Taiwan.

Ms. Pelosi has a long history of protesting human rights abuses by the Chinese government during her congressional career. Thirty-one years ago, she visited Tiananmen Square and unfurled a banner in memory of the hundreds of protesters who were killed there by Chinese troops in 1989, angering Chinese leaders.

Three times since taking office, Mr. Biden has also rattled Beijing with what might have sounded to Chinese leaders like a hardening of the US commitment to defending Taiwan – and a rejection of the carefully crafted ambiguity over the amount to help Taiwan in the case. of a military attack.

The most recent came in late May, when Mr Biden surprised a gathering of Asian leaders by answering “yes” when asked by a reporter if he was “willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan”. Mr. Biden has never clarified what that phrase meant in his mind, and White House officials have insisted that US policy has not changed.

Ms Pelosi has not confirmed whether she will travel to Taiwan. But she had proposed a trip to the island this year, which was postponed because she contracted coronavirus, and when asked about her travel plans recently, she said it was “important for us to show our support in Taiwan”.

On Sunday, Ms Pelosi revealed some additional details about her itinerary, which she had previously refused to release, citing security concerns. His office said his trip would focus on “mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region”. A posting on the website of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore said Ms Pelosi would attend a cocktail party hosted by the group on Monday afternoon.

Mr Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, has pledged to pursue reunification with Taiwan, although he did not specify a timetable. Some analysts fear he will feel compelled to show a strong stance — possibly including military action — against any perceived challenges to that pledge ahead of an important Chinese Communist Party congress this fall, when he is expected to seek a third term in office. as a leader. But other analysts played down the risks of military escalation, arguing that Mr. Xi would likely want to avoid unpredictability ahead of the meeting.

Mr Biden himself apparently hinted at the risk of a clash with China should Ms Pelosi visit. Asked by reporters recently about the proposed trip, he said “the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.” The president was also strengthen U.S. relations with Asian allies as a potential counterweight to the rise of China.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told reporters last week that China would take “firm and resolute action” if Ms Pelosi traveled to Taiwan and that the United States would be “responsible for all serious consequences”. Some political analysts and state media commentators suggested that China would activate its air force to prevent the visit – raising the specter of an armed conflict.

The Biden administration insists its stance on Taiwan has not changed, a message Mr. Biden relayed to Mr. Xi during their phone call, according to the White House. Long-standing US policy recognizes, without endorsing, China’s position that Taiwan is part of its territory, and argues that the US would protect the island without saying exactly how.

But the president has little formal authority over Ms Pelosi and her travel plans. And rising anti-China sentiment in the Democratic and Republican parties makes it politically difficult for Mr Biden to openly discourage his trip.

Domestic politics in both China and the United States left little room for graceful de-escalation, said Chen Qi, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. It could cost Democrats politically if Ms Pelosi decides not to travel to Taiwan, Professor Chen said in a interview with a Xinhua journalist, the official Chinese news agency. And China cannot afford to be seen as weak in the face of perceived provocation.

“Now it’s who blinks first,” Professor Chen said.

Edward Wong contributed report. John Liu and Claire Crazy contributed to the research.

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