US warns China not to turn Pelosi’s planned trip to Taiwan into a ‘crisis’

WASHINGTON — The United States warned China on Monday not to respond to a planned trip to Taiwan by President Nancy Pelosi with military provocations even as US officials sought to reassure Beijing that such a visit would not be the first of its kind or represent a shift in policy toward the region.

As tensions rose on the eve of Ms Pelosi’s scheduled arrival in Taipei, the White House raised concerns that China could fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait, send warplanes into the Taiwan Air Defense Zone or organize large-scale naval or air activities that cross traditional lines.

“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some kind of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the country. Taiwan Strait,” John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters. “In the meantime,” he added, “our actions are not threatening and they are not breaking new ground. Nothing about this potential visit – potential visit, which, oh, by the way, has a precedent – ​​would change the status quo.

But Beijing has made it clear that it is not reassured. “We would like to tell the United States once again that China is here, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never stand idly by, and China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty. and its territorial integrity,” Zhao Lijian, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told reporters. “As to what measures, if she dares to go, then let’s wait and see.”

The standoff over the speaker’s visit has rattled nerves on both sides of the Pacific at a time when the United States is already exhausted from helping Ukraine fight off the Russian 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 delivery to Ukraine.

While military, intelligence and diplomatic officials who briefed Ms Pelosi ahead of her departure for Asia warned that a stop in Taiwan could trigger a response that could spiral out of control, President Biden refrained from urging her not to go out out of respect for his status. as head of a separate and equal branch of government.

In a phonecall With Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, Mr. Biden explained that he was not in control of Ms. Pelosi and, as a longtime former member of Congress himself, respected her right to make his own decisions. But US officials fear China won’t accept that he doesn’t have the power to arrest him.

Mr. Blinken underscored this point on Monday. “The speaker will make her own decisions whether or not to 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 visit Taiwan regularly, including earlier this year. “And so, if the speaker decides to surrender and China tries to create some kind of crisis or escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” Mr Blinken said. “We are looking for them, in case she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to escalate in the future.”

Ms Pelosi, who arrived in Singapore on Monday, did not officially confirm her intention to stop in Taiwan, citing security concerns. But local reports in Taiwan said officials had been told she would arrive Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning local time. She had originally planned to travel to Taiwan in April, but canceled that trip after testing positive for coronavirus.

US officials monitoring intelligence reports have become convinced in recent days that China is preparing some sort of hostile response – not an outright attack on Taiwan or an effort to intercept Ms Pelosi’s plane, as some fear, but an assertion of military power that could go beyond even the aggressive encounters of recent months. Some cited the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995 and 1996, when China fired missiles to intimidate the self-governing island and President Bill Clinton ordered aircraft carriers into the area.

Analysts said a similar conflict could be much more perilous today because the People’s Liberation Army is much tougher than it was then, armed now with missiles that could take out aircraft carriers. The concern is that even if no fight is scheduled, an accidental encounter could easily spiral out of control.

“This is an exceptionally dangerous situation, perhaps more so than Ukraine,” said Evan Medeiros, a China expert at Georgetown University and former Asia adviser to President Barack Obama. “The risks of escalation are immediate and substantial.”

At the White House, Mr Kirby did not say whether US intelligence agencies had detected any concrete clues to Chinese actions, but he was unusually specific in outlining possible responses the US was anticipating.

White House officials have privately expressed concern that a visit by Ms. Pelosi would trigger a dangerous cycle of escalation in Asia just as Washington is already absorbed in helping Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion. Much of the US military-industrial complex is busy arming Ukraine, which could hamper efforts to bolster arms deliveries to Taiwan.

Mr Kirby said US officials had not necessarily anticipated an attack from China in response, but warned that any military shows of force could mistakenly trigger a conflict. “This increases the risk of miscalculation, which could lead to unintended consequences,” Kirby said.

He seemed particularly keen to send the message to Beijing that Ms. Pelosi’s visit should not be seen as another provocation by the United States since she would not be the first speaker to go there; President Newt Gingrich stopped by Taiwan in 1997. Mr. Kirby has also repeatedly stressed that the United States still adheres to its one-China policy of not recognizing Taiwan’s independence.

“We’ve made it very clear if she’s going — if she’s going — it’s not unprecedented,” he said. “It’s not new. It doesn’t change anything. »

While White House officials had little hope of deterring Beijing, they chose to outline possible Chinese responses to establish the geopolitical ground in the event of a provocation so that it would not come as a surprise.

But even if they overcome the immediate conflict without escalation, officials fear the dispute could accelerate an increasingly assertive posture by China, which has been moving in that direction in recent months anyway. Analysts said Mr Xi could not afford to look weak ahead of a critical party congress in November, when he will seek a third term.

Just as Mr. Xi’s domestic politics was a factor, so were Mr. Biden’s and Ms. Pelosi’s. Even if the speaker wanted to cancel her stopover in Taiwan, it would be problematic for her because it would be experienced as an act of appeasement with a power of revenge. Republicans have been particularly vocal in encouraging him to continue the journey regardless of the Biden administration’s scruples.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said China should not push the United States on its trip. “I pray that the leaders of the Communist Party of #China will remember old but wise advice,” he wrote on Twitterquoting an aphorism, “When anger arises, think of the consequences.”

“We may have deep domestic political differences,” he added, “but we will respond with unbreakable unity if we are threatened from abroad.”

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