The Biden administration is working behind the scenes to convince Pelosi of the risks of traveling to Taiwan



CNN

National security officials are working quietly to win over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the risks of his possible trip to Taiwan could pose for a very sensitive moment between the autonomous island and China.

Sources familiar with the speaker’s plans say she plans to visit in the coming weeks as part of a wider trip to Asia and invited Democrats and Republicans to accompany him. If she goes, she would be the first Speaker of the House to visit in a quarter of a century.

The possible trip highlights concerns within President Joe Biden’s administration about China’s plans on Taiwan as Beijing has stepped up its aggressive rhetoric and actions toward the island in recent months, including repeatedly sending fighter jets into Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone. US officials have expressed concern that the moves could be precursors to even more aggressive moves by China in the coming months aimed at asserting its authority over the island.

The war in Ukraine has only heightened those worries, as Biden and other top officials watch nervously to see what lessons China might learn from the Western response to Russia’s aggression.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping – with whom Biden expects to speak this week — is meant to lay the groundwork for an unprecedented third presidential term in the fall, contributing to tense geopolitics in the region. Biden’s call with Xi was in the works before Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan was made public, officials noted.

Administration officials have raised concerns not only about Pelosi’s safety during the trip, but also about how China might react to such a high-profile visit. With China recently reporting its worst economic performance in two years, Xi finds himself in a politically sensitive situation ahead of an important meeting regarding the extension of his rule and could enjoy a political victory, several officials told CNN.

While Biden’s aides have ideas about how he could potentially react, they don’t know which direction the Chinese leader will choose.

It was against this very charged backdrop that Pelosi offered to travel to Taiwan with a congressional delegation, a trip she has so far refused to publicly confirm. But that hasn’t stopped China from lashing out, saying a visit would violate US policy towards the island.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced on Tuesday Pelosi’s trip should be canceled, Attention that the Chinese army would “resolutely defend national sovereignty” in the face of “external forces” encouraging Taiwanese independence.

“China demands that the United States take concrete steps to fulfill its commitment not to support ‘Taiwan independence’ and not to arrange Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan,” the ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday. of Defense, Tan Kefei, in response to questions about Pelosi’s trip to Taipei.

“If the United States insists on going its own way, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will certainly take strong measures to thwart the interference of any outside force and the separatists’ plans for ‘independence’. of Taiwan “and resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Tan added.

Because Pelosi is in the presidential line of succession, the administration is taking extra precautions for her safety when traveling abroad, the White House said Tuesday.

This includes establishing a footprint on the ground based on location and environment, sometimes using military assets, according to John Kirby, communications coordinator at the National Security Council.

“We take these obligations seriously,” Kirby said, although he reiterated that Pelosi had not announced any travel plans to visit Taiwan.

Behind the scenes, Biden administration officials have been working to clarify the potential risks of visiting in meetings with Pelosi and his team.

Pentagon officials briefed the speaker last week on Taiwan and heightened tensions in the region, according to people familiar with the matter. White House officials were also present for the briefing.

The president let slip last week that the US military was against Pelosi going to Taiwan now, but the White House declined to elaborate on his comments. Even Pelosi said at a press conference last week that she didn’t know exactly what Biden meant.

“I think what the president was saying was that maybe the military was afraid that my plane would be shot down or something. I don’t know exactly,” she said.

The White House said Tuesday it was providing Pelosi with information about his potential trip.

“I’ll let the speaker talk about her travel plans. Our job, of course, is to make sure she has all the context and all the information before she moves on. But this kind of rhetoric coming from the Chinese side is clearly unnecessary and unnecessary,” Kirby said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“There’s no call for that kind of escalating rhetoric,” Kirby added. “Again, none of this should escalate into conflict. Nothing has changed in our One China policies or supporting Taiwan’s ability to defend itself. So there’s no reason for this to escalate, even just in rhetoric.

Administration officials fear Pelosi’s trip comes at a particularly tense time, as Xi is set to seek an unprecedented third term at the upcoming Chinese Communist Party congress. Chinese party officials are expected to start laying the groundwork for this conference in the coming weeks, pressuring Beijing leaders to show some strength.

Officials also believe Chinese leaders do not fully grasp the political dynamics in the United States, leading to misunderstanding about the significance of Pelosi’s potential visit. Officials say China may be confusing Pelosi’s visit with an official administration visit, since she and Biden are both Democrats. Administration officials worry China may not separate Pelosi from Biden much, if at all.

Instead, the politics surrounding the potential trip have reversed somewhat. A number of Republicans have encouraged Pelosi to press ahead with his plans, arguing it would be a tough stance against China, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“Nancy, I will accompany you. I’m banned in China, but not in freedom-loving Taiwan. See you there!” Pompeo tweeted this week.

Pelosi has long cultivated a tough stance toward China. She issued a strong statement in June on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, reminding all those she helped to unfurl a banner two years after the massacre reading: “To those who died for democracy in China.

Biden, who has sought to stabilize relations with China through regular conversations with his counterpart, is anticipating a phone conversation with Xi this week in which the Taiwan issue could likely come up.

He last spoke to Xi in March, when he worked to convince the Chinese leader not to back Russia in the midst of his invasion of Ukraine. Officials have been watching Beijing’s response to the invasion closely, hoping the mostly united Western response — including a devastating set of economic sanctions and billions of dollars in arms shipments — will prove illuminating then. that China is considering its actions towards Taiwan.

Kirby indicated on Tuesday that China is watching the global response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as it plans next steps in Taiwan, saying “I’m sure they’re watching this in real time” but that there was “no reason for it to devolve”. in any kind of conflict.

US officials believe there is a small risk that China might miscalculate in responding to a Pelosi visit. Biden administration officials fear China may seek to declare a no-fly zone over Taiwan ahead of a possible visit in a bid to reverse the trip, which could further heighten tensions in the region, a source said. a US official told CNN.

That remains a remote possibility, officials said. They say China is more likely to step up flights in Taiwan’s self-declared air defense zone, which could trigger further discussions about possible responses from Taiwan and the United States, the US official added. They did not specify what those possible answers would entail.

Although the administration has not and does not plan to formally tell the speaker not to travel to Taiwan, officials were candid during briefings about the risks associated with travel. People familiar with the matter say their hope is to quietly convince Pelosi of the risks of the trip without explicitly telling her not to go.

Ultimately, the speaker will make her own decision, Biden officials noted.

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