US warns China not to turn expected Pelosi trip to Taiwan into ‘crisis’

WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday warned China not to respond with military provocations to an anticipated trip to Taiwan by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, even as US officials tried to reassure Beijing that such a visit would not be the first of its kind, nor would it be the only one. change in policy towards the region.

As tensions mounted on the eve of Ms Pelosi’s expected arrival in Taipei, the White House said it was concerned that China might fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait, send warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone, or initiate large-scale naval or air operations. carry out those 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 prevent aggressive military activity in or around the Straits.” of Taiwan,” said John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman to reporters. “Meanwhile,” he added, “our actions are not threatening or breaking new ground. Nothing about this potential visit – possible visit, which has precedent by the way – would change the status quo.”

But Beijing made it clear that it was not reassured. “We would like to reaffirm that China is standing by, that the People’s Liberation Army will never stand idly by and that China will react decisively and take strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the United States. State Department, told reporters. “As for what measures, if she dares to go, let’s wait and see.”

The deadlock over the speaker’s visit has fueled nerves on both sides of the Pacific at a time when the United States is already helping Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion. As they tried to avert a confrontation in Asia on Monday, Foreign Minister 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 stoppage in Taiwan could provoke a response that could spiral out of control, President Biden stopped urging her not out of deference. for her status as head of a separate, equal branch of government.

In a phone call with President Xi Jinping of China last week, Mr. Biden explained that he had no control over Ms. Pelosi and, as a longtime former member of Congress herself, respected her right to make her own decisions. But US officials fear China won’t accept that it doesn’t have the power to stop her.

Mr Blinken emphasized that point on Monday. “The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan,” he said. “Congress is an independent, equal branch of government. The decision is entirely up to the speaker.

He added that members of Congress routinely go to Taiwan, including earlier this year. “And so if the speaker decides to visit, and China tries to create some sort of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be all for Beijing,” Mr Blinken said. “We are looking for them, in case she decides to visit us, to act responsibly and not engage in 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 officials there had been informed she would arrive on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning local time. She originally planned to go to Taiwan in April, but canceled that trip after testing positive for the 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 attempt to intercept Ms. Pelosi’s plane, as some fear, but a claim by military might even go beyond 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, as the People’s Liberation Army is much more robust than it was then, now armed with missiles that can take out carriers. The concern is that even if no fights are intended, a chance encounter can easily get out of hand.

“This is an exceptionally dangerous situation, perhaps worse 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 significant.”

At the White House, Mr. Kirby did not say whether US intelligence agencies had uncovered concrete evidence of Chinese actions, but he was extremely specific in outlining the possible responses the United States expected.

White House officials have expressed concern that a visit from Ms. Pelosi would spark a dangerous cycle of escalation in Asia, while Washington is already helping Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion. Much of America’s military-industrial complex is arming Ukraine, which could hinder efforts to bolster arms supplies to Taiwan.

Mr Kirby said US officials did not necessarily expect an attack from China in response, but warned that the possible military demonstrations of violence could inadvertently spark conflict. “It increases the risk of miscalculation, which can lead to unintended consequences,” Mr Kirby said.

He seemed particularly intent on getting the message to Beijing that it should not regard a visit by Mrs. Pelosi as another provocation by the United States, as she would not be the first speaker to go there; Speaker Newt Gingrich retired in Taiwan in 1997. Mr. Kirby also repeatedly stressed that the United States still subscribed to its one-China policy of not recognizing Taiwan’s independence.

“We’ve explained very clearly whether 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 lay the geopolitical foundation in case a provocation comes so it won’t come as a surprise.

But even if they move past the immediate conflict without escalation, officials worry the dispute will accelerate an increasingly assertive stance from China, which has been moving in that direction in recent months. Analysts said Mr Xi cannot afford to look weak en route to a critical party congress in the fall when he will aim for a third term.

Just as Mr Xi’s domestic politics was a factor, so was Mr Biden’s and Ms Pelosi’s. Even if the speaker wanted to cancel her stop in Taiwan, that would be problematic at home because it would be seen as an act of reconciliation with a revanchist force. Republicans have especially encouraged her to continue with the journey, regardless of the concerns of the Biden administration.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said China should not push the United States during its trip. “I pray that the leaders of the Communist Party of #China will remember the old but wise advice,” he wrote on Twitterciting 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 threatened from abroad.”

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