Nancy Pelosi On the way to Singapore, Silent on Taiwan

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Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi on Sunday began a grueling Asia tour that government officials now expect will include a stop in Taiwan, despite China’s increasingly harsh warnings in recent days that a visit to the self-governing island would provoke a reaction, perhaps a military one .

Ms Pelosi was due to arrive in Singapore on Monday, after a weekend stopover in Hawaii to consult with American commanders in charge of the Indo-Pacific. She said in a statement that she plans to continue traveling with a congressional delegation to high-level meetings in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, and made no mention of Taiwan.

But it would not be unusual to omit Taiwan from an announcement amid security concerns, and President Biden’s advisers said she is expected to continue the plan for a senior American official to visit the island for 25 years. Ms Pelosi could still change her mind about traveling to Taiwan, administration officials said, but added that it was unlikely.

Mr. Biden’s aides said he decided against directly asking Ms. Pelosi to cancel her trip, largely because of his respect for Congressional independence, forged during his 36 years in the 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 nearly two-and-a-half-hour talks with President Xi Jinping of China on Thursday.

At its core, some officials said, the government concluded after the call that the potential domestic and geostrategic risks of trying to halt the visit include letting China dictate what American officials want a self-governing democracy of 23 million people to do could visit, which China claims its own – were greater than allowing Ms Pelosi to proceed. But they conceded that there was little good information about how harshly China might respond.

Privately, American officials have urged the Chinese government to oppose the visit, noting that Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997 when he was speaker of the House of Representatives and that congressional delegations regularly visit the island to demonstrate American support for their to express defense. But the strategic environment of Mr. Gingrich’s trip was very different, and Mr. Xi has made it clear in recent years that he views reunification with Taiwan as a priority.

American officials carefully monitored the Chinese government’s preparations over the weekend, trying to discern Beijing’s intentions. The clearest sign they saw concerned the Taiwan Strait, where weekly provocations, testing and signaling take place. The Chinese military announced on Saturday, with less advance notice than usual, that it would conduct live fire drills in the waters off the southeastern province of Fujian, about 80 miles from Taiwan.

On Sunday, a spokesman for China’s Air Force said, without giving any dates, that the country’s warplanes would fly around Taiwan to demonstrate its ability to defend its territory. This raised the possibility that the exercise would be timed to coincide with the US Air Force plane that Ms. Pelosi and her delegation are taking. Her trip was part of a series of efforts to reassure the region that the United States is still committed to its “pivot” to the Indo-Pacific, even as it pours tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine to back it up against the Russians Invasion.

American officials doubt the Chinese military will interfere with Ms Pelosis’ ability to land safely in Taiwan and are betting Beijing doesn’t want a direct confrontation with the United States. But they say it’s possible Chinese planes are “escorting” Ms Pelosi’s plane to demonstrate control over the flight paths.

Officials fear the possibility of an accident — similar to what happened two decades ago when a Chinese Air Force plane collided with an American spy plane and crashed it, sparking an early crisis in the George W. Bush administration.

Officials say they have no reliable information about what the Chinese government may be planning. But they expect the biggest response could come after Ms Pelosi departs, and that it could include cross-strait military maneuvers, cyberattacks or communications disruptions that would demonstrate Beijing’s ability to stall the island that is also the island of the world — and China’s — largest supplier of the world’s most advanced semiconductors.

In recent weeks, US intelligence officials have warned that China could prepare to act against the island sooner rather than later. Intelligence analysts have concluded that China may fear that the United States’ commitment to turning the island into a “porcupine” — armed with weapons like those provided to Ukraine to ward off the Russians — would harm Mr Xi and his Military could be tricked into believing that they must move within the next 18 months lest they lose their military advantage.

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

William J. Burns, the CIA director, said in July that China appears “unnerved” by Russia’s fighting in Ukraine and may conclude it needs to develop “overwhelming” capabilities before taking a step against it Considering Taiwan.

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

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has also shaken Beijing three times with what Chinese leaders might have sounded like a hardening of America’s commitment to defending Taiwan — and a dismissal of the carefully crafted ambiguity about how much to help Taiwan in that one military attack.

The most recent came in late May, when Mr. Biden surprised a gathering of Asian leaders by responding “yes” when a reporter asked if he was “ready to engage militarily in the defense of Taiwan.” Mr. Biden has never specified what the look in his eyes means, and White House officials have insisted US policy has not changed.

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

On Sunday, Ms Pelosi revealed some more details about her itinerary, which she previously denied citing safety concerns. Her office said her trip will focus on “mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region.” A post on the website of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore said Ms Pelosi would be attending a cocktail reception hosted by the group on Monday afternoon.

Mr. Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, has pledged to push ahead with reunification with Taiwan, though he hasn’t given a timeline. Some analysts worry he may feel pressured to take a tough stance — possibly including military action — against any perceived challenges ahead of a key Chinese Communist Party congress this fall, where he is expected to claim a third term as chairman to deliver on that promise. But other analysts have downplayed the risks of a military escalation, arguing that Mr Xi is likely to avoid unpredictability ahead of the meeting.

Mr Biden himself has apparently alluded to the risk of a clash with China if Ms Pelosi visits. When recently asked by reporters about the planned trip, he said that “the military doesn’t think it’s a good idea at the moment.” The president has also strengthened US ties with Asian allies as a potential counterbalance to China’s rise.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told reporters last week that China would take “firm and decisive action” if Ms. Pelosi visited Taiwan, and that the United States would be “responsible for any serious consequences.” Some political analysts and state media commentators have suggested that China would activate its air force to prevent the visit – raising the specter of 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. Longstanding American policy recognizes China’s position that Taiwan is part of its territory without supporting it, and argues that the United States would protect the island without saying exactly how.

But the President has little official authority over Ms. Pelosi and her travel plans. And rising anti-China sentiment in both the Democratic and Republican parties makes it politically uncomfortable for Mr. Biden to openly advise against her trip.

Domestic politics in both China and the United States have 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 visit Taiwan, Professor Chen said in an interview with a journalist for Xinhua, China’s state news agency. And China cannot afford to be seen as weak in the face of a perceived provocation.

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

Edward Wong contributed reporting. John Liu and Claire Fu contributed research.

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