Nancy Pelosi has the right to visit Taiwan, the White House says, amid rumours that the House of Representatives speaker will visit the country.
The Democrat is currently in Singapore as she visits the Indo-Pacific region and will also visit Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
The White House did not officially confirm that she will visit Taiwan and in an itinerary of her trip, the East Asian island nation was not included in the list of countries she will visit.
However, it has been long reported that she will meet with officials in Taiwan after she was forced to cancel a trip to April due to COVID-19.
Since the cancellation, neither her office nor the White House confirmed any details of a rescheduled trip, but her comments in July that it is “important for us to show support for Taiwan” sparked rumours it could be on the cards.
While there hasn’t been official confirmation of the visit from the US or Taiwan, three of the country’s largest newspapers – The United Daily News, Liberty Times and China Times – cited unidentified sources as saying that Mrs Pelosi would arrive in Taipei from Malaysia on Tuesday night.
China warned that its military would never “sit idly by” if she visited the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.
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- Nancy Pelosi
- United States
If she did visit, she would become the highest-ranked elected US official to visit in over 25 years since Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Analysis: Joe Pike, news correspondent
Few in Washington are surprised by the House Speaker’s Taiwan trip. In her decades-long political career, Nancy Pelosi has been passionate about international human rights and critical of China on Tibet, Hong Kong and the Uyghur genocide.
She first made her name when as a young backbencher in 1991 during a Congressional trip to Beijing, she snuck away from her government handlers and unveiled a peace banner with two colleagues in Tiananmen Square.
The three politicians were chased away by military police but their stunt made headlines across the world.
However China’s aggressive response to the Ms Pelosi’s visit and threats of “consequences” demonstrate exactly why the Pentagon has been sceptical about the wisdom of making such a trip.
The White House has made it clear it is not their role to tell Speaker Pelosi where or where not to travel, but President Biden’s team seem to be the ones left trying to calm tensions, insisting they will “not take the bait and engage in sabre-rattling”.
Now 82 years old and unlikely to lead the House Democrats long after November’s midterms, Nancy Pelosi is likely thinking of her legacy.
And what better way to bookend a career in Congress than by causing another international incident at China’s expense.
US won’t be ‘intimidated’ by China
Any visit would spark anger in Beijing, which sees Taiwan as part of its own territory.
“If Pelosi insists on visiting Taiwan, China will take resolute and strong measures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing, without giving details.
“Those who play with fire will perish by it. We would like to once again admonish the US. that we are fully prepared for any eventuality and the PLA will never sit idly by.”
The White House’s national security spokesperson John Kirby warned that any reaction from China could include firing missiles near Taiwan, large-scale air or naval activity or further “spurious legal claims” such as Beijing’s claim that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway.
“We will not take the bait or engage in sabre rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated,” he said.
Taipei visit will not change US foreign policy
Xi Jinping warned Joe Biden against getting involved in Taiwan in a phone call last week.
Beijing sees official US contact with Taiwan as an encouragement to make the island’s de-facto independence permanent, something US leaders say they don’t support.
The Biden administration has tried to reassure Beijing that there is no reason to “come to blows” and any visit to Taiwan would not signal a change in US policy.
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Taiwan and China split in 1949 after the Communists won the civil war on the mainland.
Both sides say they are one country, but disagree over which government is entitled to national leadership.
In 1979, the US, under Jimmy Carter, switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing but has maintained an informal relationship with the Island.