Tensions rise between US and China over Nancy Pelosi visit to Taiwan

Tensions rise between US and China over Nancy Pelosi visit to Taiwan
U.S Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Credit: Belga

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to visit Taiwan on Tuesday as part of her diplomatic tour of Asia. As third in line to the presidency, she is the highest-ranking US official to visit the self-governing island in decades, despite warnings from White House officials about China's reaction to such a high-profile visit.

Chinese fighter jets flew close to the median line in the straight that divides Taiwan and China, Taiwanese sources told Reuters. China's People's Liberation Army as well as Taiwan's defence forces are on high alert.

The move comes as Taiwan and the US braced for China's reaction to the visit as China warned against the "egregious political impact" of Pelosi's visit during a foreign ministry meeting on Monday. China considers Taiwan as part of its territory and repeated that it "won't sit idly by" if believes its "sovereignty and territorial integrity" is under threat.

Pelosi's visit could be considered support for Taiwan after fears from the US and Europe that China could be positioning itself to take over the island, following China's clampdown on Hong Kong.

Strained relations

Taiwan is a contentious point between the US and China, and President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping discussed it during a two hour 17 minute phone call on Thursday.

White House officials as relations between the US and China are already at a low point, while Xi is thought to go for an unprecedented third time as President at the upcoming Chinese Communist Party congress.

Biden has publicly said that the US military believes it is not a good time for her to visit, but has stopped short of telling her not go. But as Pelosi is in succession of the US Presidency, the White House is taking extra care for her security during her visit to Taiwan. The White House declined to answer questions on its security measures, but it is known to have a military presence in the region.

The Speaker's choice

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that for the White House, it is up to Pelosi to decide if she visits, adding that  "we do not know what Speaker Pelosi intends to do."

"Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government," Blinken said at the United Nations on Monday. "The decision is entirely the Speaker's."

Blinken added that such a visit has precedent, with other high level US politicians visiting the island, although the last time a Speaker visited Taiwan was 25 years ago.

Taipei is not part of Pelosi's official schedule, which includes Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. According to sources close to the matter she is meant to visit President Tsai Ing-Wen on Wednesday after landing in Taiwan at 22:20 local time on Tuesday.

Pelosi has been a longtime critic of China, particularly on human rights abuses. She has previously stood with Chinese pro-democracy protestors and the Dalai Lama - the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. More recently, she has been vocal in her support for the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

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