WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) – US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has the “right” to go to Taiwan, a senior US official said on Monday (Aug 1), warning that China was “positioning” to respond with a show of military force.
“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan,” Mr John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told reporters.
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with longstanding US policies into some sort of crisis,” he said.
However, China “appears to be positioning itself to potentially take further steps in the coming days,” he said.
This “could include military provocations such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan,” according to Mr Kirby, also identifying “large scale air entry into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone” as a possible step.
Some of China’s possible moves would remain within the already “concerning trend line” of Chinese sabre-rattling around the democratically ruled island, he said, which Beijing claims is part of Chinese territory.
However, some developments “could be of a different scope and scale”, Mr Kirby said, noting that the last firing of Chinese missiles into the Taiwan Strait was back in the mid-1990s.
US officials say that China is overreacting to any visit, still unconfirmed, by Mrs Pelosi.
While Mrs Pelosi is second in line to the US presidency and has huge power as speaker in the House of Representatives, the White House insists that as a leader in a separate branch of government she makes entirely independent travel plans.
“The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan. Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government. The decision is entirely the speaker’s,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the United Nations.
“If the speaker does decide to visit and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” Mr Blinken said.
“We are looking for them (China) – in the event she decides to visit – to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”
Mr Kirby said the United States “will not be intimidated” from continuing to move freely in the Pacific region.
However, he sought to lower tension by stressing several times that US policy was unchanged towards Taiwan. This means support for its self-ruling government, recognising Chinese sovereignty, and opposing either a full independence bid by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.
“Nothing has changed, nothing has changed,” he said. “We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side… We have said that we do not support Taiwan’s independence.”
He added: “There’s no drama to talk to, there’s certainly no reason for this to come to blows.”
Mr Kirby confirmed that Mrs Pelosi is travelling on a military aircraft and said, without giving details, that Washington will “make sure that she can travel safely and securely”.
He said: “I can assure you that she will.”
According to Mr Kirby, “it’s not so much that there might be a direct attack, but it raises the stakes of a miscalculation”.