WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan in the coming days, according to news media reports, defying threats of Chinese retaliation to make the highest-level U.S. visit in 25 years.
China views Taiwan as part of its territory, though Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign country. The United States has long embraced a murky middle ground that seeks to support Taiwan without infuriating Beijing.
President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense militarily if China invaded to take over the self-ruled island.
China warned of unspecified "consequences" for visiting Taiwan as tensions escalate between Beijing and Washington.
Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying tweeted Monday that "the U.S. government must honor its commitments in both word and in deed. Otherwise the U.S. government must take responsibility and bear consequences for any act" that China sees as a violation of its agreements with the United States.
Zhao Lijian, deputy director of the Information Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said his country's military will "not sit idly by" if Pelosi visits Taiwan, according to Reuters.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Biden directly during a lengthy phone call July 28.
"Those who play with fire will perish by it," the Chinese leader said, according to Beijing's official account of the conversation.
"It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this. The U.S. should honor the one-China principle," the government statement said.
Biden and Xi call:Tension over Taiwan, economic anxiety
On July 27, Zhao said a visit from Pelosi would challenge "China's red line" and "be met with resolute countermeasures."
U.S. officials called such comments escalatory.
"Frankly, that kind of rhetoric is unnecessary and unhelpful," John Kirby, the National Security Council's coordinator for strategic communications at the White House, said last week. "Rhetoric of that kind only escalates tensions in a completely unnecessary manner."
Monday, Kirby stressed that a trip by Pelosi would not mark any change in U.S. policy, pointing to past visits by members of Congress, including this year.
"Nothing about this potential visit ... would change the status quo, and the world should reject any (Chinese) effort to use it to do so. We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated," he said.
"We have repeatedly said that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side, we have said that we do not support Taiwan independence, and we have said that we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means," Kirby said.
Pelosi, D-Calif., would not confirm her trip; lawmakers generally do not publicize overseas travel because of security concerns. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was the last House leader to visit in 1997.
After the call between Biden and Xi, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden wouldn't tell Pelosi whether she should travel to Taiwan.
Biden said, "The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now" for Pelosi to visit Taiwan.
The top two Republicans in Congress said not going to Taiwan in the wake of China's threats would be a win for Beijing.
"If she doesn't go now, she's handed China sort of a victory," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he would lead a bipartisan trip to Taiwan himself if he became speaker.
Contributing: Francesca Chambers, Deirdre Shesgreen
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nancy Pelosi expected to visit Taiwan, despite Chinese threats: reports