Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, was poised to begin a tour of four Asian countries on Monday in Singapore, amid considerable speculation that she may incur the wrath of Beijing by also visiting Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by China.
On Sunday, Pelosi’s office announced that she would be leading a Congressional delegation to the region, which would include stops in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan. It made no mention of Taiwan.
Visits by US officials to Taiwan are seen as a positive signal by China to the island’s pro-independence side. Although Washington does not have official diplomatic connections with Taiwan, it is required by law to assist the island with the tools to defend itself.
A visit by Pelosi, the third in line to the presidency and a long-time critic of China, would come at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing are deteriorating. The most recent House speaker to visit Taiwan was Republican Newt Gingrich in 1997.
During a phone discussion last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told his US counterpart Joe Biden that Washington must follow the one-China principle, and that “those who play with fire will perish by it.”
Biden assured Xi that US policy toward Taiwan has not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral moves to alter the status quo or threaten peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang did not reply explicitly on Monday when asked if Pelosi would arrive on Thursday, as local media speculated.
Pelosi was scheduled to arrive in Singapore on Monday for a two-day visit, according to the country’s foreign ministry, as reported by CNA. According to its website, the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore will have a reception with her on Monday afternoon.
State media quoted Chinese air force spokeswoman Shen Jinke on Sunday as saying that Beijing would “resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Shen stated at a military airshow that the air force had numerous types of fighter jets capable of circling “the sacred island of our nation,” referring to Taiwan.
Beijing believes Taiwan to be part of its territory and has never abandoned the use of force to seize control of the island.
Pelosi’s Asian trip coincides with a politically tense period for Chinese and US leaders.
Xi is poised to clinch a record-breaking third leadership term later this year during the ruling Communist Party’s once-every-five-years session. In the United States, Biden’s Democratic Party will face a difficult battle to keep control of the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections.
Last Wednesday, Biden told reporters that a Pelosi travel to Taiwan was “not a good idea right now” for the US military.