How Nancy Pelosi’s potential Taiwan visit is affecting US-China ties

While the date of Pelosi’s visit is yet to be declared, if carried out, it would make her the highest-ranking American lawmaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years. China, which considers the neighbouring island a part of its territory, has threatened the US with unspecified, “strong measures” if Pelosi went ahead with her plans.

The controversy comes at a time when the US-China rivalry is at its heights over their opposing stances on various economic and geopolitical issues, including the South China Sea dispute, the Russia-Ukraine war and tech conflicts.

Here’s a quick guide to understanding the latest flashpoint in the US-China relationship.

Was Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan leaked?

Pelosi plans to visit Taiwan in August, said a Financial Times report, which added that the 82-year-old Democrat lawmaker would take a delegation along with her. The report said Pelosi would be the most senior US lawmaker to visit the island since then-Speaker, Republican Newt Gingrich’s visit in 1997.

Pelosi had planned the trip earlier in April, but had to cancel after she was infected with Covid-19. The report added that three unnamed sources in the White House had expressed “concerns” about the trip as its timing coincides with the August 1 anniversary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

China considers Taiwan, an island separated from it by the Taiwan Strait, as a renegade province and has publicly said that it intends to unify it with mainland China. However, Taiwan considers itself to be an independent nation and has opposed China’s plans.

The US, meanwhile, has a long-standing ‘One China’ policy under which it maintains an official relationship with China whilst maintaining a close, albeit unofficial allyship with Taiwan.

China’s reaction

Beijing reacted sharply to the news, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijiang warning that China would take “resolute and strong measures” if the visit takes place.

He added that the visit could “severely undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, gravely impact the foundation of China-US relations and send a seriously wrong signal to Taiwan independence forces.”

“If the US were to insist on going down the wrong path, China will take resolute and strong measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.

Joe Biden’s 2-hour phone call with Xi Jinping

As the news gained traction, US President Joe Biden, in response to a question by the press, said that US military officials believed the visit was “not a good idea” at this point.

“Well, I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,” Biden said, adding, “but I don’t know what the status of it is.”

Notably, the President, who belongs to the same party as Pelosi, did not suggest she cancel her visit.

On Thursday, Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke on phone for over two hours, During the call, Biden sought to reassure Xi that the US policy on Taiwan has not changed.

“On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said an official readout on the White House website.

After the leaders’ phone call, China’s foreign ministry quoted Xi as telling Biden that “those who play with fire will perish by it”, and that they hoped “the US will be clear-eyed about this.”

What next?

Neither Pelosi nor the White House has confirmed the possible Taiwan visit.

A Cheng Kung class frigate fires an anti-air missile as part of a navy demonstration in Taiwan’s annual Han Kuang exercises off the island’s eastern coast near the city of Yilan, Taiwan on July 26, 2022. (AP)

However, Pelosi on Friday indicated that she is going on a trip to Asia, but did not mention Taiwan. “I’m very excited, should we go, to the countries that you’ll be hearing about along the way,” she said, as per a Reuters report.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said: “Where she’s (Pelosi) going and what’s she’s going to be doing, that’s for the Speaker to talk to.” However, he added that the US has not observed any signs of specific military threat from China. “(We’ve) seen no physical, tangible indications of anything untoward with respect to Taiwan,” said Kirby.

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