White House says ‘we do not support Taiwan independence’ amid reports of Pelosi visit

·4 min read

All signs point to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting Taiwan this week during her overseas trip, despite warnings from China over the move and the Biden administration seeking to defuse the situation.

On Monday, CNN first reported that Ms Pelosi planned on visition the island nation with a five-member delegation during her trip to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

China has warned that its military ‘”will not sit idly by” if the House speaker does decide to visit.

Meanwhile, the White House has said the US position on Taiwan remains what it has been over the last four decades and stressed that any visit to the island by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reflects neither a change in policy or the wishes of the Biden administration.

Speaking at Monday’s White House press briefing, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Ms Pelosi had not publicly confirmed any travels plans and said the decision on whether or not to visit the island despite recent sabre-rattling by the Chinese government is hers and hers alone due to the separation of powers laid out in the US constitution.

Mr Kirby also noted that the island has previously hosted visits to members of the US congress — including one by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997 — and stressed that any such visit is a sui generis event that does not connote the imprimatur of the executive branch.

“The Speaker has the right to visit Taiwan and a Speaker of the House has visited Taiwan before without incident, as have many members of Congress including this year,” he said. “Nothing has changed about our ‘one China policy,’ which is, of course, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three joint US-PRC communiques [and] the six assurances”.

Mr Kirby added that the US continues to oppose “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,” he said. “Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis or conflict or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait”.

Earlier on Monday, CNN and other news organisations reported that Ms Pelosi’s travel with a five-member delegation to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan had been expanded to include a visit to Taiwan, including a planned overnight stay in Taipei, the island’s capital city. The Financial Times has also reported that Ms Pelosi’s schedule will include a meeting with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen.

According to Ms Pelosi’s office, the trip is meant to focus on “mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region”.

The subject of the House speaker’s possible travel to Taiwan took up a significant portion of a phone call last week between President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. According to a readout of the conversation released by the Chinese foreign ministry, Mr Xi warned Mr Biden that a visit to the island by Ms Pelosi, who is second in the presidential line of succession, would be “play[ing] with fire”.

Despite US assurances that American policy on Taiwan has not changed, Beijing has stepped up military activity in the vicinity of the island, including conducting live-fire exercises, and Mr Kirby said Chinese forces appeared to be “positioning” themselves for “further steps in the coming days,” including “military provocations, such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan” or “ operations that break historical norms,” including a “large scale air entry into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone”.

“We and countries around the world believe escalation serves no one. Beijing's actions could have unintended consequences that only serve to increase tensions,” he said, adding that the US would “not take the bait” or undertake any “saber-rattling” of its’ own.

He added that the US would “not be indimindated” and would continue normal military operations in the region as it has “for decades”.