House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faced pushback Thursday on potential plans to visit Taiwan, with President Joe Biden saying that the military was opposed amid fears of inflaming tensions with China.
Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president, declined to comment on whether she would make the trip, but told reporters: “I think it’s important for us to show support for Taiwan.”
China, which claims the self-ruling island, has already voiced anger and accused the United States of supporting pro-independence forces in Taiwan.
Asked late Wednesday if Pelosi should travel to Taiwan, Biden told reporters: “The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now, but I don’t know what the status of it is.”
Pelosi said she had not heard directly from Biden on Taiwan and said, “Maybe the military was afraid our plane would get shot down or something like that by the Chinese.”
“None of us has ever said we’re for independence when it comes to Taiwan. That’s up to Taiwan to decide,” she said.
The Biden administration has been stepping up support for Taiwan, but the United States is careful not to send high-level delegations to Taipei, instead dispatching lower-level officials in charge of trade or other less controversial areas, or former officials.
China’s air incursions near Taiwan have risen sharply this year. CIA chief Bill Burns said at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday that Beijing appeared determined to use force in Taiwan, with risks of action growing later this decade.
China considers self-ruling Taiwan a province awaiting reunification. The mainland’s defeated nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war, but the island has since transformed into a flourishing democracy and technological power.
Washington switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but Congress has ever since required US administrations to provide weapons to the island for its self-defense.
Biden said in May that the United States was ready to use force to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, appearing to shed the long-held US ambiguity on whether it would engage militarily, although the White House quickly walked his comments back.
Diplomats say the Biden administration is concerned that a visit by Pelosi — a member of Biden’s Democratic Party — would be seen by China as part of an orchestrated administration campaign, even though Congress is a co-equal branch of government under the US Constitution with lawmakers free to travel as they please.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said earlier this week that Congress “is an integral part of the US government.”
“If Pelosi visits Taiwan, this would severely violate the One-China principle,” he said.
China’s ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, told the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday that the One-China policy of the US “is under threat,” but that Beijing still wanted “peaceful reunification” of Taiwan.
“The United States is hollowing out and blurring up the One-China policy. It is substantially uplifting the official links with Taiwan by sending more officials to the island,” he said.
Taiwan has been a rallying cry for conservative Republicans, but enjoys bipartisan support in Washington.
Pelosi has long been an outspoken critic of Beijing’s human rights record, in 1991 outraging her hosts by unfurling a banner in Tiananmen Square in memory of pro-democracy demonstrators killed there two years earlier.
Newt Gingrich, then the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives and an outspoken supporter of Taiwan, visited the island in 1997, but China at that time was seen as less capable of invading the island.