WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday sought to play down tension over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan, which China has already said will be seen as a serious challenge.
“There is no reason to escalate this,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a White House briefing on Monday, reiterating that the Biden administration continues to support the “One China” policy.
“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan, and a speaker of the House has visited Taiwan in the past without incident, as have many members of Congress, including this year,” Kirby said. “People saw the United States government being very clear that nothing has changed — nothing has changed — about our One China policy.”
The One China policy, which has been in place for decades, essentially admits that Taiwan is a Chinese territory. Obliged by a 1979 law to supply arms to Taiwan, the US has maintained an ambivalent position on whether it would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of a Chinese invasion.
Beijing sees the self-ruled island’s independence movement as a threat, one it could potentially respond to with military force, although Taiwan has yet to take the step of formally declaring independence from its far more powerful neighbor.
“We do not support Taiwan independence,” Kirby reiterated Monday, a view consistent with that of previous administrations.
Then-Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan in 1997, the last House leader to do so. Since then, China’s regional influence has only grown, as has its confidence as a superpower.
Pelosi had originally intended to visit Taiwan in April, but a coronavirus infection derailed those plans. It is now expected to arrive in Taiwan on Tuesday.
China hit the news. “If the US persists in following the wrong path, China will definitely take decisive and forceful measures to vigorously defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a Chinese foreign ministry official said the day after its intentions were made public.
The US and its allies remain preoccupied with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. The fear of provoking a second nuclear power with huge regional influence remains a major concern, and Kirby sought on Monday to portray Pelosi’s visit as different from the Biden administration’s own diplomatic priorities.
“We’re not going to take the bait or engage in rattling,” Kirby said. “There’s no reason for it to spark some kind of conflict,” he added of the speaker’s visit at another point in Monday’s briefing.
“At the same time, we will not be intimidated,” he said, acknowledging the extremely difficult geopolitical situation in which Pelosi may be operating. Last week, China and Taiwan held competing military exercises.
“We’re going to make sure he has a safe and secure visit — because that’s our responsibility,” Kirby said. Pelosi is traveling to Asia by military transport, giving the visit an official air that the White House would prefer to downplay.
Pelosi began her visit to East Asia with a trip to Singapore. Her itinerary includes stops in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Kirby claimed she did not know what her message might be if, as expected, she makes a stop in Taiwan.
“I can’t speak to what Speaker Pelosi might say or do on this trip,” he said.