China Summons U.S. Ambassador Amid Backlash Over Pelosi's Taiwan Visit

As a U.S. plane carrying Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress landed in Taipei on Tuesday night local time, Nicholas Burns, the top American envoy in Beijing, received a late-night summons followed by a dressing-down from a senior Chinese diplomat over Washington's failure to block the House speaker's plans.

Xie Feng, a vice foreign minister in Beijing, called in Ambassador Burns and "lodged stern representations and strong protests" over Pelosi's visit to the democratically governed island, China's official news service Xinhua said on Wednesday.

China views Taiwan as its own territory, but exercises no jurisdiction over the island or its people, who largely welcomed the California Democrat's stopover, making her the first serving speaker to set foot in Taipei in 25 years. Pelosi is a long-time critic of Beijing's human rights record, and said during an audience with President Tsai Ing-wen that "America made a bedrock promise to always stand with Taiwan."

China Summons U.S. Ambassador Over Pelosi Visit
U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on October 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. China’s official news service Xinhua said Burns was summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry to receive a formal protest from Beijing on August 2, 2022, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Burns, who took up the ambassadorship carrying President Joe Biden's line on Beijing, was told in no uncertain terms that the United States was to blame for allowing the House speaker's travel to Taiwan, Xinhua said. The White House argues the executive branch has no authority over Congress.

"Xie said the U.S. government must be held accountable," Xinhua's readout of the meeting said. "He said the U.S. government has indulged rather than restrained Pelosi's willful act, leading to the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait and seriously undermined the China-U.S. relations."

So far, it's Taiwan that has borne the brunt of Beijing's reprisals. Pelosi trip, which lasted less than 24 hours, was met with economic sanctions in the form of blanket bans on Taiwanese imports. The Chinese military announced live-fire exercises and missile tests in six locations around the island, including in zones overlapping Taiwan's territorial sea and airspace, to be held Thursday through Sunday.

"Noting that the U.S. side shall pay the price for its own mistakes, Xie urged the U.S. to immediately address its wrongdoings, take practical measures to undo the adverse effects caused by Pelosi's visit to Taiwan," Xinhua said.

In a statement to Newsweek, a State Department spokesperson said Burns "explained that the Speaker of the House has the right to travel to Taiwan and that her trip is fully consistent with our one China policy, which is based on the Taiwan Relations Act, Three Communiques, and Six Assurances. That policy has not changed."

"Ambassador Burns also reiterated that the United States will not escalate and stands ready to work with China to prevent escalation altogether. He also pledged the United States' intent to keep lines of communication open," the spokesperson said.

China Summons U.S. Ambassador Over Pelosi Visit
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi attends a meeting at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, on August 3, 2022, in Taipei, Taiwan. Pelosi and her delegation of U.S. lawmakers arrived in Taiwan a day earlier as part of their tour of Asia. Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

China's state-owned tabloid the Global Times noted on Wednesday that Burns's summons was at least the 17th time Beijing had sent for an American diplomat. "Among those summonses, at least eight were related to the Taiwan question," the newspaper said.

The last summons was for Robert Forden, who was chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing when he was dressed down over the Trump administration's sanctions on senior Chinese Communist Party officials in December 2020, the newspaper said.

In a lengthy statement on Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry repeated its belief that members of Congress, like those in the executive branch, should be beholden to the U.S.'s one China policy, under which Washington maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan.

"Since Speaker Pelosi is the incumbent leader of the U.S. Congress, her visit to and activities in Taiwan, in whatever form and for whatever reason, is a major political provocation to upgrade U.S. official exchanges with Taiwan," the ministry said.

China Summons U.S. Ambassador Over Pelosi Visit
A U.S. plane carrying Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi prepares to take off from Taipei Songshan Airport on August 3, 2022, in Taipei, Taiwan. Pelosi and her delegation of U.S. lawmakers arrived in Taiwan a day earlier as part of their tour of Asia. Central News Agency via Getty Images

John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson at the White House, said Pelosi's visit was consistent with U.S. policy.

"We've said that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We said we do not support Taiwan independence. And we've said, as I said again yesterday, that we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means," Kirby said.

China's reprisals against Taiwan were "unfortunately right in line with what we had anticipated," he told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. Kirby said there was no cause for Beijing to use Pelosi's visit "as a pretext to increase aggressiveness and military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait, now or beyond her travel."

During an appearance on CNN after the House speaker landed in Taipei, China's top envoy in the U.S., Qin Gang, told John King the incident "deals a serious blow to the political foundation of China-U.S. relations." Pelosi's travel, he said, was "a reckless, provocative move."

"We are fully justified to do what we must. The current situation is created purely by the U.S. side, so of course it has to bear the responsibilities," he said.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington said Qin filed diplomatic protests with the National Security Council and the State Department.

Update 8/3/22, 11:20 a.m. ET: This article was updated with comments from the Department of State.