The Washington Post reported Saturday that Biden administration officials increasingly fear that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned trip to Taiwan next month risks sparking a major crisis across the Taiwan Strait.
Media reports said last week that Pelosi plans to make the trip in August, prompting strong warnings from China. Beijing would view the visit as a major provocation since Pelosi is a high-level official in the US government and it would signal that Washington was moving away from the one-China policy.
Administration officials told the Post that China would view the visit as a purposeful provocation. One administration official said that military and intelligence officials have “tried to explain the risks associated with the timing of her proposed trip.” But the official said that it’s ultimately her decision.
President Biden said last week that the military doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Pelosi to visit the island. In comments to reporters, Pelosi declined to confirm if she was going to make the trip citing security risks, and claimed that Biden hasn’t warned her against the move.
It’s hard to believe that Biden couldn’t pressure Pelosi not to make the trip since they’re so closely aligned, but that’s the impression administration officials are trying to make. They told the Post that it’s unlikely China would understand that Biden can’t order Pelosi not to go.
A Chinese official made it clear in comments to the Post that Beijing thinks Biden has the power to stop the trip. “The US side has the ability to stop these clowns from performing in Taiwan,” the official said. “Over and over, it chooses not to.”
The Financial Times reported Saturday that China had issued stark private warnings to the Biden administration about Pelosi’s trip. The report said the warnings were significantly stronger than the threats that Beijing has made in the past. Congressional delegations to Taiwan have increased in recent years, and Beijing typically responds by conducting military exercises near Taiwan.
But the stepped-up warning’s over Pelosi’s plans signal that China could take stronger measures than usual. The last major Taiwan Strait crisis, known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, took place in 1995-1996 and was sparked by the US giving a visa to former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. China responded by launching a series of missile tests near Taiwan.
The Post report said that some in the administration fear China could respond to Pelosi’s trip by flying a warplane over Taiwan, which would be an unprecedented step.
In recent years, the US has stepped up its military activity in sensitive areas near China and now sails a warship through the Taiwan Strait about once a month. The US Navy destroyer USS Benfold made the provocative passage last week after challenging Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea by sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-controlled islands.