A growing number of Republican China hawks have come out in support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plans to visit Taiwan next month as the Biden administration is concerned the trip could spark a crisis across the Taiwan Strait.
Republicans that have expressed support for Pelosi’s plans include Senators Ben Sasse (NE), Tom Cotton (AR), and John Cornyn (TX). “Speaker Pelosi should go to Taiwan and President Biden should make it abundantly clear to Chairman Xi that there’s not a damn thing the Chinese Communist Party can do about it,” Sasse said on Monday.
Cotton said on Tuesday that Pelosi should “go forward” with her trip and that President Biden shouldn’t stop her. “If Joe Biden prevents Nancy Pelosi or any other member of Congress from traveling to Taiwan, it will create a major foreign policy crisis,” he said.
Republican support for the trip also comes from former Trump administration officials, including former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. During the Trump administration, the US started sending high-level delegations to Taiwan in unprecedented visits as part of its policy against China, a policy the Biden administration has continued.
If Pelosi makes the trip, she will be the first House speaker to do so since Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997. Gingrich was the speaker for a Republican-controlled House during the Clinton administration at the time, and he also voiced support for Pelosi.
“What is the Pentagon thinking when it publicly warns against Speaker Pelosi going to Taiwan? If we are so intimidated by the Chinese Communists we can’t even protect an American Speaker of the House why should Beijing believe we can help Taiwan survive. Timidity is dangerous,” Gingrich wrote on Twitter Monday.
Pelosi has also received support for the trip from her fellow Democrats, including Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Ro Khanna (CA), the progressive lawmaker who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
“We’re not going to let the Chinese Communist Party dictate where the Speaker of the House should go,” Khanna told CNN. “We shouldn’t allow them to bluff and dictate to America, the greatest nation in the world, where our Speaker of the House should travel.”
The bipartisan support for Pelosi’s provocative trip comes after President Biden said the military doesn’t think it’s a “good idea” for her to go. While seemingly opposed to the trip, the administration maintains that they can’t force Pelosi not to travel to the island, which is hard for the Chinese to believe.
China views Pelosi’s travel plans as a major provocation because she is a high-level US government official, who is even in line for the presidency if something happens to the president and vice president, and it would signal Washington is abandoning the one-China policy.
“As the No 3 leader of the US administration, if Pelosi insists on coming to Taiwan … it will inevitably cause extremely serious damage to ties between the Chinese and US governments, as well as the two militaries, leading to further escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said on Tuesday.
Chinese military analysts told The South China Morning Post that the trip risks direct conflict between the US and Chinese militaries. They said it will be different from when Gingrich made the visit in 1997 because China’s military is now much stronger.