U.S. Downplays Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan Trip As China Escalates Warning Levels

The U.S. government on Tuesday declined to comment on Nancy Pelosi's reported upcoming visit to Taiwan, with the House speaker's as yet unconfirmed plans having already triggered an almighty backlash from Beijing.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a press briefing that he wasn't aware of Pelosi's travel plans. For its part, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry—always welcoming of members of Congress—said it hadn't been notified either.

Joy Lee, Pelosi's spokesperson, told Newsweek via email that her office "cannot confirm or deny international travel in advance due to long-standing security protocols."

A Financial Times report on Monday said the California Democrat would lead a delegation to Taipei in August, a historic move that would make her the first serving House speaker to visit the island in 25 years, after Republican Newt Gingrich in 1997.

China Warns U.S. Over Nancy Pelosi Trip
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi attends a bill enrollment ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on June 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Pelosi is reportedly planning a historic visit to Taiwan in August. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A trip by Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency after VP Kamala Harris, would hold significant meaning for America's unofficial relationship with Taiwan. The island has enjoyed increased support from Washington amid an intensifying U.S.-China rivalry, and as Taipei's ties with Beijing have also frayed.

News of Pelosi's plans, although still unofficial, drew a stern response from the Chinese's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. Zhao Lijian, its spokesperson, said a decision by Pelosi to visit Taiwan would "have a severe negative impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations."

"The U.S. must not arrange for Speaker Pelosi to visit the Taiwan region and must stop official interactions with Taiwan, stop creating factors that could lead to tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and follow through on the U.S.'s commitment of not supporting 'Taiwan independence,'" Zhao said.

"Should the U.S. side insist on doing otherwise, China will take strong and resolute measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The U.S. must assume full responsibility for any ensuing consequences," he said, without elaborating.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, but the democratic island has never been ruled by the People's Republic of China and considers itself a functionally independent country. Successive Chinese leaders have refused to rule out the use of force to achieve political union with it.

When Washington established formal ties with Beijing in 1979—at the expense of official relations with Taipei—the U.S. committed to a strictly unofficial relationship with Taiwan as part of its "one China" policy. On the whole, that commitment has held; visits by current members of the executive branch are exceedingly rare.

Congress is another matter. The independent legislative branch has historically provided some of the strongest support to Taiwan. While China argues the U.S. government shouldn't facilitate trips to Taiwan by American lawmakers such as Pelosi, the State Department feels differently.

"Of course, in our country, Congress is a separate and coequal branch," Price said on Tuesday. The State Department spokesperson said his counterpart in Beijing was "weighing in on a hypothetical."

Chinese government organs and the country's state-affiliated press have raised the tone of attack against the U.S. and Taiwan since the Financial Times report.

Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, urged members of Congress to "recognize the important sensitivity of the Taiwan issue."

In an editorial on Tuesday, the Global Times, the nationalist tabloid published by the Chinese Communist Party, said Pelosi's plan would be "a huge historic mistake for Washington."

A visit to Taiwan "is definitely a red line that Pelosi must never cross," the paper said.