“We want Congress to be part of” the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, Pelosi told reporters on Friday. “I’m very excited, should we go to the countries you’ll hear about along the way, about the conversations we’ll have. … We have global responsibilities.
US defense officials are increasingly concerned that China is viewing a congressional delegation to Taiwan, escorted by military planes, as an invasion. This rhetoric intensified on Friday when Hu Xijin, a commentator for the Chinese state-owned Global Times, threatened that the Chinese military could shoot down the speaker’s plane.
“If US fighter jets escort Pelosi’s plane to Taiwan, it’s an invasion,” Hu wrote on Twitter. “The [Chinese military] has the right to forcibly chase Pelosi’s plane and American warplanes, including firing warning shots and performing tactical obstruction movements. If they are ineffective, shoot them down.
Pelosi raised the possibility of his plane being shot down last week, after President Joe Biden told reporters the US military believed his potential visit to the self-governing island was “not a good idea”. Indeed, the Biden administration has privately shared the risks with Pelosi in recent weeks, including a plea to postpone his trip until later this year.
However, earlier on Friday, White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the United States had seen “no physical and tangible indication of anything untoward in relation to Taiwan.” .
The US military is used to Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait, including increased naval activity and aerial interceptions, said one of the people familiar with the matter. US fighter jets flying in the region are already allowed to carry the maximum amount of munitions, according to two of the people.
Defense officials are more concerned that Beijing is conducting missile tests in the waters surrounding Taiwan as an intimidation tactic, as it did during the Taiwan Straits crisis in 1996.
The rise in tensions over Pelosi’s trip comes a day after Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone about a range of issues, including Taiwan. According to Chinese state media, Xi warned Biden that the United States must abide by its “One China” policy, adding, “Those who play with fire will eventually get burned.”
Asked about Xi’s threat on Friday, Pelosi smiled and laughed, but refused to answer.
Pelosi’s travel plans, like those of most lawmakers, are generally kept secret until they leave a particular country. Yet the crowds of audiences on this particular trip put immense pressure on the speaker to stop in Taiwan, despite increasingly belligerent threats from China and concerns from the Biden administration. .
Lawmakers fear that if Pelosi decides not to travel to Taiwan, Beijing would benefit from his tough talk. Meeks, who declined to discuss a possible trip on Friday, seemed to echo those concerns.
“We can’t be intimidated by anyone,” Meeks said. “I don’t pay attention to that.”
“Xi and China – they better start worrying about their own human rights abuses, what they’re doing with the Uyghurs and trying to figure out how they can play on the world stage with everyone on the same stage,” Meeks added, referring to China’s Genocide of Uyghur Muslims.
Pelosi has long inflamed the Chinese government given its progressive human rights record. Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Pelosi has actively encouraged dissidents in Hong Kong and elsewhere who have been subjected to Chinese repression. In 1991, the speaker was kicked out of Tiananmen Square for unfurling a banner honoring pro-democracy protesters who had been killed there two years earlier.
Beijing views Taiwan as part of China and views the US stance on Taiwan as tacit support for the island’s independence. Biden himself has, at least three times, sworn to militarily defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, before the White House reconsidered these declarations.
US policy toward Taiwan has long been governed by the Taiwan Relations Act and the doctrine of “strategic ambiguity” – the notion that the United States remains deliberately evasive about defending Taiwan.
Some members of Congress, however, have pushed to revise this doctrine for “strategic clarity”, especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.