President Biden said the U.S. military does not support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visiting Taiwan this summer.
China’s Foreign Ministry lashed out Tuesday after media reports that Pelosi, as part of a broader tour of Asia in August, was planning to visit the democratic island that is claimed by Beijing.
At her weekly news conference Thursday, Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency, said she never discusses her travel plans, as it is a national security issue.
“You never even hear me say if I’m going to London, because it is a security issue,” she told reporters. Earlier this week, her office said it would neither confirm nor deny international travel “in advance due to long-standing security protocols.”
The Financial Times first reported the news of Pelosi’s trip, stating that she would visit Singapore, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Pressed by a reporter about Biden’s remarks, Pelosi said: “I think what the president was saying is that maybe the military was afraid our plane would get shot down or something like that by the Chinese. I don’t know exactly. I didn’t see it. I didn’t hear it. You’re telling me, and I’ve heard it anecdotally,” she said.
Pelosi had planned to lead a congressional delegation to Taiwan in April but delayed her trip after contracting the coronavirus. A visit this summer would make her one of the most senior U.S. politicians to travel to Taiwan in recent years and the first House speaker to go there since Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) did so in 1997.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week that the trip has not been announced and remains “hypothetical.”
Biden also told reporters that he expects to speak to China’s president, Xi Jinping, “within the next 10 days.” He demurred on whether he would raise the issue of tariffs and trade with the leader of the world’s second-largest economy, amid rising inflation in the United States.
Chinese-U.S. relations remain tense — and Taiwan is a sensitive issue.
“If the United States insists on going ahead, China will have to take firm and forceful measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday. Such a trip would cause “grave harm,” he added, and “seriously impact the political foundations of China-U.S. relations.”
Pelosi, who has been critical of China over its stance on Taiwan, met virtually in January with Taiwan’s vice president, William Lai Ching-te, when he was in the United States. He thanked Pelosi for championing human rights and called her a “true friend” of Taiwan.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own and has pledged to achieve what it calls “reunification,” threatening, if necessary, to use force to take control of the self-ruled island. The United States has for decades walked a fine line, not taking a position on the status of Taiwan’s sovereignty but asserting repeatedly that it opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo.
During his first trip to Asia as president in May, Biden signaled a more confrontational approach toward China and issued a sharp warning against any potential attack on Taiwan.
Asked at the time whether the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if it is attacked by Beijing, Biden said: “Yes, that’s the commitment we made.” His comment represented a departure from the usual U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity on the subject and was swiftly walked back by aides and criticized by Beijing at the time.
Taiwan has lived under military threat from Beijing since Communist forces defeated the Nationalists in the Chinese civil war in 1949, prompting the Nationalists to flee to Taiwan and set up a rival government.
Christian Shepherd and Missy Khamvongsa contributed to this report.