foreign affairs

Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip Is Already an International Incident

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still planning on taking a trip to Taiwan despite China’s stern warnings that doing so could provoke an unspecified but major response and a distinct lack of enthusiasm about the idea from President Biden.

Pelosi is scheduled to visit the island in August as part of a broader Asia tour after having postponed a previously planned April trip because of the pandemic. She would be the first House Speaker to go to Taiwan since Newt Gingrich in 1997. Although many other government officials have made the trip since 2018, after Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act, an appearance by a U.S. politician of Pelosi’s stature would mark a major event — even if she hasn’t been clear about her reasons for traveling there in an unofficial capacity.

China has responded with ominous warnings. On July 19, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “If the U.S. insists on going down the wrong path, China will definitely take resolute and forceful measures to firmly defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States must be fully responsible for all the consequences caused by this.”

Days later, the Financial Times reported that “six people familiar with the Chinese warnings said they were significantly stronger than the threats that Beijing has made in the past when it was unhappy with US actions or policy on Taiwan.” The paper added that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is against the trip.

Pelosi isn’t getting much support from fellow elected Democrats. President Biden seems unenthused about her plan, telling reporters last week, “I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now. But I don’t know what the status of it is.” (Hawkish Republicans, on the other hand, are keen for Pelosi to go.)

Informed of Biden’s comments, Pelosi told reporters, “I think what the President was saying is — maybe the military was afraid our plane would get shot down or something like that by the Chinese. I don’t know exactly. I’ve heard it anecdotally, but I haven’t heard it from the president.”

As July draws to a close, Pelosi and the White House still can’t seem to get on the same page about this. Some U.S. officials reportedly consider it possible, but unlikely, that China could send military planes to stop her plane from landing, an act that would seriously escalate tensions in the region. The speaker has also invited the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee along for the ride. When asked on July 27 if she was sticking to her travel plans which could threaten national security, she said she doesn’t “ever discuss my travel plans. It’s a matter of security.”

Under Xi Jinping’s rule, China has become newly emboldened in its longtime claim over Taiwan, which became the home of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese government in exile in 1949 after he was toppled by Mao Zedong’s Communists. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fears have grown that China will use military force to take the island once and for all. The U.S. has maintained a strategy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan for decades, trying to keep China guessing about how it would respond in the event of an invasion, but President Biden upset that applecart when he said in May that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense militarily if China launched an attack.

The contretemps around Pelosi comes shortly after her husband, Paul, raised eyebrows by purchasing millions of dollars of stock in Nvidia, a company that manufactures semiconductors, just weeks before Congress is set to vote on boosting domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip Is Already an International Incident